Alice Munro has been accused of telling the same story over and over, and to a certain extent the characterization is true. Her subject matter is inevitably the vagaries of love between middle-aged people in some rural Canadian setting, trapped there by the combination of their desires and weaknesses. Or, if not love, then at least the mysteries of relationships as characters struggle to understand each other and themselves. But this thematic single-mindedness can hardly be considered a criticism considering Munro tells stories better than anybody else and with a level of precision matched by few. It would be like criticizing Shakespeare for writing about politics.
Runaway is no exception. The stories take place throughout Canada--northern Ontario, the Prairies, the West Coast, Stratford--and feature women and men drifting in and out of each other's orbits, pulled by forces they don't understand. In "Runaway," a woman considers leaving her husband with the help of a neighbor, but the husband has other plans. In "Chance," a woman leaves her life behind in a quest for a man she met on a train crossing the country. Their intertwined lives play out through two more stories, "Soon" and "Silence," but the path they follow is as unpredictable to the reader as it is to them. In "Trespasses," a small town's women dream of escaping their lives only to find themselves in lives they never imagined.
What really marks the stories is Munro's sense of mood. There's a sense of hidden menace or even violence everywhere in Runaway. It occasionally erupts, but always in surprising and unexpected ways, and with unintended consequences. Munro may be an old-fashioned storyteller, but she understands chaos theory well enough. The same story? Sure. But it's a damn good one. --Peter Darbyshire, Amazon.ca
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Nothing is new in Munro's latest collection, which is to say that the author continues to perfect her virtuosic formula in these eight short stories, several of which previously appeared in the New Yorker
. While her style typifies the traditionally realistic, often domestic genre of that magazine, Munro's stories are also global, bighearted and warm. In the title story, a housekeeper tries to leave her emotionally abusive husband, entangling her employer in the process. Three interconnected stories—"Chance," "Soon" and "Silence"—follow a schoolteacher as she falls for an older man, returns as a young mother to visit her ailing parents on their farm and much later tries to "rescue" her daughter from a religious cult. In "Tricks," a lonely nurse on a day trip encounters a man from Montenegro and vows to return to his clock shop one year later to resume their affair. In deliberate prose, Munro captures their fleeting moment of passion on a train platform: "This talk felt more and more like an agreed-upon subterfuge, like a conventional screen for what was becoming more inevitable all the time, more necessary, between them." Munro's characters are hopeful and proud as they face both the betrayals and gestures of kindness that animate their relationships. One never knows quite where a Munro story will end, only that it will leave an incandescent trail of psychological insight.
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