Five of the best Alice Munro short stories

Alice Munro

Choosing just a few Munro short stories to recommend is exceedingly difficult. Munro wrote for many years and was recognized with various awards, including the Nobel prize for literature. She wrote numerous stories, often taking place in southern Ontario, where she was raised and where she later lived. Few authors were able to capture the lives of typical people with the same level of elegance, understanding, and skill as Munro. Her stories are anything but mundane.

Happy Shades' Dance, 1968

Margaret Atwood was moved to tears when she first read this tale, as she thought it was excellently crafted. The story features a spinster named Miss Marsalles, who taught piano to generations of children in the refined, genteel community of Rosedale in southern Ontario. The music teacher hosted an annual piano recital that young mothers felt obliged to attend, causing them to feel anxious and judged. The narrative is shared from the perspective of a teenage daughter of one of the past pupils of Miss Marsalles. The teacher and her older sister, who recently suffered from a stroke, now reside in a bungalow located in the less desirable part of town. This part of Miss Marsalles' life is deemed a sensitive and impolite topic to discuss.

The Marsalles sisters are known for their unusual appearances and their tendency to host parties despite not having much money. They are seen as committing the mistakes of being old, unmarried, and poor. Perhaps their unique looks have become a sort of protection for them from the harshness of life. Munro has a keen eye for detail, bringing to life the buzzing of flies around sandwiches left out too long, the unpleasant smell of a recently cleaned dress, and the shoddy silver ribbon on presents. The discomfort is palpable as the mothers of Rosedale are forced to confront a group of children with Down's Syndrome who have come to give a recital. Etiquette dictates that they shouldn't stare, but where else can one look during a piano performance but at the performer?

Dance of the Happy Shades, despite being one of Munro's earlier works and much shorter than her later ones, is an excellent showcase of authorial irony. Throughout the book, Munro portrays women with polite and well-mannered facades, who eventually reveal their snobbish and unkind sides. The book praises innocence and unexpected happiness without a hint of sentimentality. It's so well-written that it might make you cry not only because it's good, which it absolutely is, but also because it's sorrowful and unusual.

"Beggar Maid" In New Yorker, June 27, '77

The New Yorker published another Munro story in 1977, following Royal Beatings a few months prior. This story is part of a series featuring the character Rose over a period of more than 40 years, always returning to the fictional small town of Hanratty in southern Ontario. Rose's life reflects the author's own experiences, from a book-loving girl from the wrong side of town to scholarship, an unwise first marriage, early motherhood, divorce, creative success, fame, and a return to her desire to flee the small town. Munro revisits this arc many times over the years. In the fifth "Rose and Flo story", Rose escapes to the University of Western Ontario in London, just like Munro. Unfortunately, she falls into another trap by agreeing to marry Patrick, a privileged but priggish man who idolizes her because it seems unlikely she'll receive another offer.

This section of the blog discusses common themes found in stories by Alice Munro, including shame, self-deception, ambition, and regret. The story being referred to highlights these themes as well, as the main character experiences conflicting emotions about her situation. Although the romance is doomed from the beginning, the characters still hold onto hope and dreams for what could be. The stark differences between their family homes also represent their contrasting lifestyles and values. Overall, the story is a poignant portrayal of the complexity of human relationships and the struggles we face in understanding ourselves and others. Rose, the main character, is left to confront these issues and find a way forward amidst the challenges she faces.

For a decade they were in a terrible marriage - sometimes she would hit the bedpost with her head, sometimes he would hit her. Things got so bad that even gravy boats were being smashed through windows. They couldn't leave each other until they had hurt each other severely enough. Finally, Rose managed to find a job and earn her own money, which might have just been a typical reason for their separation. Munro was always aware of how money played a role in relationships.

Many years after a coincidental meeting at an airport late at night, a disturbing and immature gesture of "disgust and hatred" stayed with Rose long after. As a moderately famous TV presenter, she couldn't comprehend why anyone could despise her so deeply. However, she knew that Patrick, who she encountered that fateful night, was capable of it.

"A Woman's Love: New Yorker's 1996 Feature"

One Saturday morning back in 1951, three young boys stumbled upon a deceased man by the name of Mr. D M Willens. Being the town's optometrist, his body was found in his car submerged in the Peregrine River. Instead of speaking to the authorities as they should have, the boys made their way back home for an afternoon meal. During their journey home, they stumbled upon the home of the late Mr. Willens and were greeted by his oblivious widow. She presented them with bunches of forsythia to bring back to their mothers, leaving them feeling embarrassed. Each of the boys traveled back to their own homes after this encounter, each with varying degrees of untidiness and melancholy. Later on that evening, one of the boys confided in his mother who rightfully contacted the police. This event was hardly the beginning or the conclusion of the story.

Out of nowhere, we find ourselves in the hospital room of a young mom who is on the brink of dying from liver disease. Taking care of her is Enid, a local nurse who is known for her kindness and goodness. Although we expected to read a story about growing up or small-town values, it surprisingly transforms into a tale of haunting, vengeance, criminal investigation, and eventually, romance. Believe it or not, all of this occurs in less than 80 pages.

"Did you confess?" "Did you say anything?" the boys anxiously inquire of each other in the opening, and this query is repeated frequently in this tale about hidden truths and deceit. At first, it appears improbable that the two distinct storylines have any connection, aside from their location. But eventually, like daredevils performing on a tightrope, they merge in a stunning display of storytelling that captivates the reader, leaving them both mesmerized and apprehensive about how it will conclude.

In this blog post, it is mentioned that Munro is able to keep things interesting without making them overly dramatic. Munro pays attention to details and doesn't waste any of them. Munro makes the readers aware of what is happening beneath the surface of the story. This particular story proves that Munro's work goes beyond just describing sad and boring domestic issues. This is Munro at her best, as she raises the question of what being good really means.

Kids Remain – NYer Dec 14, 1997

The Children Stay, a story by Munro, takes place partially in Victoria and Vancouver Island, where Munro lived during her first marriage. It portrays a tale of female liberation, typical of Munro's style. The protagonist, Pauline, is a mother of two young daughters who is trapped in the life of a desperate housewife. She was born too early to experience the sexual revolution and dreams of living life as a solitary figure who basks in the glory of her own achievements. Despite having no prior acting experience, Pauline lands the lead role in an amateur production of Eurydice, where she gets involved romantically with the director.

While on a family vacation, a woman's secret life crosses her mind unexpectedly, causing a sudden surge of emotions within her. Even while completing mundane tasks like washing diapers or playing board games with her difficult in-laws, these thoughts still lingered. One day, she reaches her breaking point and decides to leave everything behind, checking into a budget hotel with only the clothes on her back. This decision marked a turning point in her life, as she became one of those who run away from their old lives. Many observers would say it was for love, but in reality, it was for sex. As author Atwood notes, few writers have explored the dangerous yet irresistible nature of desire as thoroughly and ruthlessly as Munro. In Munro's hands, the descriptions of a messy bed hold more meaning than any explicit depictions of sex could ever convey.

All of the personalities in the story are not very pleasant and all of them are somewhat silly. Both of the men act immature: Brian, her spouse, who has a habit of turning things into humor and has a puppy-like fondness for his folks; Jeffrey, her lover, who Brian refers to as "monsieur le director," constantly putting on airs and throwing fits. Additionally, there are the actual kids to consider.

Brian is insisting that the children should stay, despite being surprisingly rational about the matter. Pauline, on the other hand, tries to reason with herself by saying that they will grow up eventually and she will lose them anyway. The reader is left with the heavy feeling of Pauline's decision, akin to the weight of a baby on her hip and the sandy footprints of her toddler in the beach supermarket where she received Jeffrey's call.

After a sudden shift in Munro's paragraph, the kids have become adults. They don't hold any grudges against her nor do they grant her forgiveness. Jeffrey was a passing companion of hers. However, the children chose to stick around.

"New Yorker's Tale: Bear Crosses Mountain"

Grant and Fiona have been married for a long time, despite Grant's infidelities back in the 70s. They are both in their 70s now, but Fiona has dementia, and as a result, Grant takes her to live in a care home. Fiona seems cheerful about the move, and even mentions that it will be like staying in a hotel. However, when Grant comes back after a few weeks, he discovers that Fiona has formed a romantic connection with another resident.

However, this is not the complete story. Grant wants to make his wife happy in their new house, which leads him to consider a romantic relationship with Marian, his rival's wife, who is tough-talking and tight-lipped. Grant compares the idea of dating Marian to biting into a litchi nut. He describes the litchi's exterior, which has an artificial allure, a chemical taste, and a shallow flesh covering the seed. Grant finds the comparison unlikely, especially in Marian's glittery house that has modern appliances and plastic carpet runners. The litchi analogy adds to the story's charm, revealing Marian's character, and Grant, who noticed her youthfully full and up-tilted breasts, as well. Even after 20 years since she first read the story, the writer hasn't been able to look at a litchi fruit without remembering Marian in her too-tight slacks.

The situation is intricate and induces a feeling of uneasiness. It contains numerous instances of ironic parallels and reversals, and only Munro possesses the ability to execute it successfully, which she undeniably accomplishes with brilliance.

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