Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Ships of Life

I have only recently become a fan of short stories because they satisfy a need when I am too distracted by life to concentrate on, or finish, a full length novel. And, I have noticed that collections of short stories are appearing more and more on lists of best books and favorite books for the year. One of the best and most prolific contemporary short story writers is the Canadian writer, Alice Munroe. I have just finished a selection of short stories that she published in 2001, “Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage: Stories”. These are nine stories about people who are connected to each other but not always because they choose to be. The stories are mainly about women in small provincial towns in Canada in the 1960’s. Women who found life fleeing around them without the predictability they had counted on.

In the title story the author tells us about two petty teenage girls who attempt to play a cruel joke on a housekeeper approaching spinsterhood. But the joke is on the teenagers and they can’t understand how it happened. In “Family Furnishings" a young girl escapes her family to attend college in a city. There she encounters a family relative who reveals a secret that shocks the young woman and changes her history. The last story of the collection,“The Bear Came Over The Mountain”, is about a philandering husband who, in the end, selflessly pays his wife back for all his indiscretions. This story has become a popular novella and a motion picture entitled, “Away From Her”.

Alice Munroe has that rare ability to depict characters with many flaws who in a few pages become real and sympathetic. She tells stories that move in time and place and give the reader a true sense of what a character is thinking and why.

Reading a short story by Alice Monroe is as intriguing and satisfying as reading a novel. Her character portrayals and writing never falters. It is amazing to think that someone can consistently produce such great stories. Her latest collection entitled, “Too Much Happiness”, was published in 2009.

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