Thursday, July 02, 2009

Runaway by Alice Munro

Alice Munro won the 2009 Man Booker International Prize for her fiction. I have occasionally come across one of her stories in an anthology or The New Yorker, but I have never actually read an entire volume of her work. I understand why she deserves this prize.

These stories have a smoothness to them: no rough edges, nothing unusual, simply people living ordinary lives. Of these eight stories, five stand alone, but the most absorbing and the most interesting are three involving a character named Juliet. This set lies so close to the border of a novel, I wish with all my heart it comes out finished and complete. The ends are tied up too quickly, because I did not want the series to end.

This is not to say that I did not enjoy all of them – I absolutely did! But I found myself deep into Juliet, because Munro’s prose is that clever, that clear and bright. Here is a passage from the first in the series, “Chance”

“Juliet cleaned up the stroller, and Penelope, and herself, and set off on a walk into town. She had the excuse that she needed a certain brand of mild disinfectant soap with which to wash the diapers—if she used ordinary soap the baby would get a rash. But she had other reasons, irresistible though embarrassing.

“This was the way she had walked to school for years of her life. Even when she was going to college, and came home on a visit, she was still the same—a girl going to school. Would she never be done going to school? Somebody asked Sam [her father] that at a time when she had just won the Intercollegiate Latin Translation Prize, and he had said, “’Fraid not.” (101).

Munro shows us the overarching theme of these stories in the title. Each story has a character trying to escape, but most often, -- even when they do get away – ties that bind hold them to the past. As Thomas Wolfe said, “You can’t go home again.” And you can’t get away from home either. Five stars

--Chiron, 7/5/09

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