The Love of A Good Woman, Stories by Alice Munro
The short story has few practitioners as skilled as Alice Munro, now 88, a writer who’s all but required reading during #ShortStoryMonth. Munro famously began writing stories as a young mother, finding the story took “less time.” Lucky for readers that the genre turned out to be one that suited her. Since her first collection appeared in 1968, she has produced fourteen in all—and garnered numerous awards and prizes, including Canada’s Governor’s General Award, the PEN/Malamud Award, the Rea Award for the Short Story, numerous O. Henry Awards, and the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2013.
Munro is known for stories set in her home landscape of western Ontario, Canada, and intricacies of relationships that are never sentimental: her stories are told in a voice that intimates a character’s deepest thoughts and feelings. Munro’s narrators are sharp-witted, sardonic, even biting in their observations. So where to begin when first entering Munro country?
My recommendation is to begin mid-career. It’s there you’ll find her classically novelistic stories—where the density of novel is packed into thirty or so pages. The stories of this period may not be as stylistically daring as in recent collections, like Runaway, but there is something classically satisfying about the stories written in the years between 1982 and 1998. Those collections are, in this reader’s view, vintage Munro. “The Moons of Jupiter,” “The Progress of Love,” “Friend of My Youth,” and “The Love of A Good Woman” are some of Munro’s iconic stories. As impossible as it is to choose, I’d direct first-time Munro readers to the collection, The Love of A Good Woman. There you will
find such classic stories as “The Children Stay,” a chilling tale of adultery and its effects viewed from the perspective of years later. Or “Before the Change,” an epistolary account of the adult daughter of a widowed country doctor who performs abortions for local women, and after his death, learns the housekeeper has been blackmailing him for decades. The title story of the collection is a domestic murder mystery that features an ailing husband, a devoted nurse, curious boys, and clues set down in a collage of time and memory.
Munro revels in what she calls “knotty” situations, where she holds a mirror to the complexities of life and applies her astonishing eye to the details, gathering time and events in her own unique fashion. Munro has famously referred to her narrative structure as that of a house, in which the reader is free to wander through its rooms in any order she pleases. It’s a way she herself prefers to read stories, she’s said. Though in the end, read them in any order you prefer, just be sure to take your time and savor them.