Alice Munro is often described as the foremost short story fiction writer of the times. Born in 1931 in Ontario, Munro is well-known throughout Canada for her short stories but is less well-known in the US and England where her work has often been overlooked for awards because Munro hasn’t written the definitive novel that tends to garner literary distinction and international recognition. One has to admire Munro for not caving into the pressure to write “the novel” and instead stay true to her art by continuing to publish short story collections.
Written in 2004, “Runaway” is a collection of eight short stories with one word titles: Runaway, Chance, Soon, Silence, Passion, Trespasses, Tricks, and Powers. Some of the stories stand on their own, as in “Runaway” – the story of a young woman in a relationship with an older man who gives a whole new definition to the word “controlling” – in the creepiest of ways, or “Passion” in which an elderly woman returns to a place where she spent a summer more than forty years before and looks back on the defining moments of that period in her life.
There are also stories that are tied together across time and generations: “Chance,” “Soon,” and “Silence” tell the story of Juliet as a young woman, a new mother, and as a middle-aged woman oblivious to how her actions have shaped her life and those around her. Juliet is not without good qualities and Munro takes us through the journey allowing the reader to understand Juliet while exposing all her dysfunctional traits. Juliet’s intentions are good but misplaced and harmful. And, this is where Munro’s strength lies:. she writes about seemingly normal people living typical lives in Canadian provinces but with all the drama inherent in all of us.
Munro explores the world of adoption and exposes the power of misunderstanding while showing the self centeredness of adults we expect so much more from in “Trespasses” and in “Tricks,” the reader is led through a story of love, hope, and misunderstanding – a common theme in Munro’s writings. And, finally in “Powers,” the story of Tessa who has a special power that both elevates and isolates her is at the center of this chilling tale.
Munro’s 40-page short stories are legendary in their ability to convey the complexities of the seemingly mundane life of a human being that is everything but boring, predictable, or absolute.We are shown these lives from the point of view of an observer – not someone passing judgement or explaining why – which allows readers to come to their own conclusions. The stories are suspenseful at times and deeply sad at other times but always worth reading.