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Munro, Alice

rose stories marriage lives

(Canadian, 1931– )

Munro writes short stories set in rural and semi-rural southern Ontario, where she grew up and now lives. She has been compared to Chekhov and Proust, but the brilliance of her stories is unique. They are set in a small, intimately known world (just as Jane Austen's novels have restricted settings) and they explore lives and characters with piercing insight. Their structure is fluid and complex, moving easily through time; a story by Munro often contains as much as a full novel by another writer. Begin with The Beggar Maid (1980, Booker Prize shortlisted; published in the USA as Who do You Think You Are?, 1979). This presents linked stories of stepmother Flo and daughter Rose, living with Rose's father behind a store in Hanratty, until Rose grows up and moves on, through marriage and divorce. Rose's acute embarrassment at Flo, and her intense teenage curiosity and dread of appearing foolish, are captured beautifully in the sordid train ride of ‘Wild Swans’. In The Progress of Love (1986) the story ‘Miles City Montana’ moves with typical circularity from the narrator's childhood memory of a drowned boy, to a family holiday twenty years later, and on to many years after that, when the marriage is over, then back to the holiday, where one of the daughters is saved from drowning by her mother's sudden intuition—a sense which she herself knows cannot be trusted. In the course of its twenty wonderful pages this explores the ways adults betray children, a failing marriage, memory, and parental love. Open Secrets (1994) is also highly recommended.

Anton Chekhov, Raymond Carver, Elizabeth Bishop. See CANADA,SHORT STORIES  JR

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