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Selected Stories, 1968-1994 Paperback – November 11, 1997

4.2 out of 5 stars 95 customer reviews

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"Too many things," a creative writing instructor tells the narrator of "Differently." "Too many things going on at the same time; also too many people. Think, he told her. What is the important thing? What do you want us to pay attention to? Think." What does Alice Munro want us to pay attention to in her Selected Stories? Everything, really, and so her narratives loop back on themselves, jump decades backward and forward in time, introduce characters who later drop out of the action, and generally break every rule in the short-story-writing book. In "Carried Away," for instance, a dead character makes a sudden, inexplicable appearance in what is otherwise the thoroughly naturalistic account of a librarian's disappointment with love. "The Albanian Virgin" is two stories in one: the first--the fanciful tale of Ghegs kidnapping a young Canadian woman--is told within the second, about a bookstore owner who has lost her own bearings after a divorce. There are stories that begin with their endings, and several more that end with beginnings; others are told from three or four different angles, each with varying degrees of reliability. Taken together, they form an intricate web of relationships and connections, falsehood and anecdote, a kind of fictional palimpsest laid over the faint traces of plot.

And yet Munro trusts her readers; she believes that we will pay attention to all these things and more. She aims to create the illusion that everything in her fiction has been left in, and it is this very capaciousness that sets her work apart, making possible the keen psychological insight of her stories about marriage as well as the cool violence of "Vandals" or "Fits." Hers is an unusual sort of realism, technically innovative and amenable--especially in the later work--to loose ends. (It also possesses a quick, flinty wit: "This was the first time I understood how God could become a real opponent, not just some kind of nuisance or large decoration," says the narrator of "The Progress of Love.") To call Munro the Canadian Chekhov is by now a commonplace--and yet she may have done more for the short fiction form than any writer since. These are stories that will be read, savored, and admired hundreds of years from now. --Mary Park --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

A literature-lover's feast, this phenomenal collection of 28 short stories, selected from seven collections that span three decades, showcases Munro's mastery of the form, her vibrantly evocative prose and her undiluted, incisive vision of human nature. Almost without exception, the tales are set in western Canada, from the small-town and farm life of the Lake Huron region to the cultivated suburbs of Vancouver. Most take place in earlier decades, starting with the Depression era. One of Munro's great gifts is that she renders her settings both palpably specific?like one small town's "maple trees whose roots have cracked and heaved the sidewalk and spread out like crocodiles into the bare yards"?and universally accessible. In the opening story, "Walker Brothers Cowboy," a young girl accompanies her salesman father on his rounds through rural Canada in the 1930s. A surprise visit to one of his old girlfriends reveals his hidden, fun-loving past, and the girl poignantly weighs her mother's disappointments in marrying her father against this old girlfriend's in losing him. "Material" strikes a very different tone: the narrator, the ex-wife of a reasonably well-known contemporary writer and professor, reads a recent short story of his that, to her surprise, affects her deeply (even though she wryly deconstructs his author bio as filled with "half-lies"). Having doubted that he would ever be a good writer, she is suddenly envious that he can take a lifetime of memories?mere "useless baggage" for her?and create something from them, while she sacrificed her writing ambitions to deal with the mundanities of life. Munro's stories are always trenchant, finely modulated and truly brilliant meditations on peoples' complexities and the emotions they contend with?sometimes ruefully, sometimes in pain, but most often with stoic dignity. 40,000 first printing.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 688 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (November 11, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 067976674X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679766742
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.2 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (95 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #309,045 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Alice Munro is rightfully considered to be one of the greatest short-story writers in the English-speaking world. Certainly a story like "The Progress of Love," in this volume--a rich, poignantly ironic delineation of the selectivity of memory--is proof enough that Munro is as great as her reputation would have it, and that she is one of the few living writers who deserves to be mentioned in the same sentence as Chekhov. Nevertheless, plowing through her Selected Stories is like gorging on a box of chocolates; you'd be a lot better off savoring just one or two at a time. The maiin problem is that Munro's subject range is narrow. How many stories can you read in one sitting about women from impoverished small-town Ontario, who are misunderstood and often brutalized by their families, boyfriends and husbands? (The reviewers who called Munro's women weak are misreading the stories severely; these women could have hauled the wounded Titanic to port, 2,000 passengers and all, single-handedly. They have the clemency of the very strong, which unfortunately means that weaker, more spiteful souls can walk all over them.) Yet within each story, Munro's elegant, lucid prose style and encyclopedic knowledge of the human mind and heart make themselves felt. I will reread stories such as "Material," "Chaddeleys and Flemings," "Dulse," "The Turkey Season" and "The Beggar Maid" with joy and admiration for their perfect artistry. But I'll have to wait to reread stories such as "Labor Day Dinner," which after an unrelieved diet of Munro stories can almost seem like a parody of the author. Do yourself a favor; buy this wonderful book, but savor its delights sparingly, as you would a box of Godivas.
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Format: Kindle Edition
I love literary fiction short stories, but over and over again I've found myself left cold and unmoved by Alice Munro stories. This puzzles me, since Munro has been widely hailed as one of the greatest short story writers of our time, and I'm a great fan of some of the writers she's been compared to: Chekhov, Mansfield, Joyce. So in an attempt to delve into this puzzle I decided to read a goodly batch of Munro stories; perhaps (I thought) I'd grow to appreciate what so many others seem to love in this author, or perhaps I'd come to understand what it is about her stories that I don't like. As it turned out, the conclusion of my experiment was more along the lines of the second item.

It seems to me that the failings of Munro stories come down to two huge absences: humor and passion.

Humor: There is an almost complete lack of humor in Munro's stories. Reading her, I was paradoxically reminded of something David Sedaris said recently about Lorrie Moore's stories: "There's joke after joke after joke, and yet when you get to the end, you're just devastated." To me, Alice Munro is the exact polar opposite of Lorrie Moore in that respect. Most of her characters are humorless prigs who go through life in a perpetual grumpy funk, and when you get to the end of their story... well, speaking for myself, I'm glad to be done with them.

Passion: Munro seems to shy away from strong emotions. I'm not looking for romance-novel heaving bosoms and rending of bodices, but just some occasional clear, sharp, strong feelings in a character or narrative. Certainly Munro makes use of emotions; many -- perhaps most -- of her stories seem to engage in an almost mathematical complexity of shifting feelings: When character A is under circumstances B and C, she reacts with emotions X and Y.
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Format: Paperback
This book came out in 1996 and selected 28 short stories published between 1961 and 1994, from seven of the author's collections up through the mid-90s. There were four stories in it from the 1960s, nine from the 70s, ten from the 80s and five from the 90s. Seventeen of the stories from the 1970s onward had made their debut in the New Yorker. Since Selected Stories came out, Munro has published four collections of new short fiction.

Two of the very early tales here, from the 1960s, were the simplest and enjoyed the most by this reader ("Walker Brothers Cowboy," "Dance of the Happy Shades"). They were written in the first person and generally contained a narrator recalling an experience from girlhood -- incidents from time spent with a father, a piano recital -- or an adult recounting another's betrayal.

In the stories from the 70s, things started to become more elaborate. More characters and story lines, more locations outside the Ontario back country, and a greater focus on adult relationships -- women living their lives and looking for a place in the world. There were flashes forward and backward. The stories got longer. A decent male character other than the narrator's father was introduced ("The Turkey Season"). About half of the stories were written in the third person; the author's earliest pieces had also been of this type but were left out of the collection. Most enjoyed from the 70s was "Chaddeleys and Flemings," the narrator's recollection of relatives on both sides of her family, their contrasts and similarities, and the passing of time.

From the 1980s and 90s, the stories got longer still. There were more pieces about married, separated, divorced or remarried women and their partners and friends.
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