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Munro, Alice.

Toronto, McClelland and Stewart, c1986. 309pp, cloth, $22.95, ISBN 0-7710-6666-X.CIP

Grades 12 and up
Reviewed by Barbara J. Graham

Volume 15 Number 1
1987 January

A new collection of Alice Munro short stories is a must for any library that includes a serious Canadian literature component. Munro writes brilliantly and with deceptive simplicity. Her characters strike responsive chords in the psyche, allowing the reader to recognize and remember simultaneously both past and present experiences.

Although much of what Munro writes is solidly based in small-town Ontario, she transcends geographical borders as she probes the lives of these ordinary people often caught in existences of quiet desperation. In Munro's writing, no one is truly ordinary. There are depths of being that need only to be recognized.

Munro is a highly visual writer. Long after the story is read, the scene remains indelibly impressed on the mind. One pictures the desperate mother with the noose around her neck, the teenage girls filing past the coffin in a "Circle of Prayer," the grandmother leaving the lake nude after the hippies have taken her clothing, the small girl apparently drowning in the swimming pool in Montana.

The themes of love and death are examined again and again. Munro explores reactions, often leaving the soul painfully exposed. The gothic tone of her earlier books remains intact. One continues to be reminded of William Faulkner's work as the grotesque in character and experience become focal points for both setting and theme. Whether it be the Ottawa valley, or southwestern Ontario so vividly described that one can experience it with all the senses, Munro sensitively uses her settings as a backdrop for the complexities of the human heart.

Munro works in interesting ways with time shifts and points of view. Past and present commingle as the first person narrator recalls the past, while reacting in the present. However, in this collection, the author undertakes the objectivity of the third person as well. This, in turn, adds depth to an already polished performance. Munro continues to explore the feminine viewpoint in the character of wife, mother, single parent, sister, lover, the old and the young. Always, she gives the readers a sense of themselves and a sense of connection with the rest of humanity.

Not everyone will read Munro's collection with thorough enjoyment. Her unhesitating delving into much that is sensitive and painful in human existence is not light entertainment. Her concentration on lives in extremis is demanding reading. However, there remains the majority of readers who have anticipated a new Munro collection and who will not be disappointed.

Barbara J. Graham, Board of Education for the City of London, London, Ont.
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