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Martin, W.R.

Edmonton, The University of Alberta Press, 1987. 235pp, cloth, ISBN 0-88864-116-8 (paper) $14.95, 0-88864-115-X (cloth) $25.00. CIP

Grades 12 and up
Reviewed by Bohdan Kinczyk

Volume 15 Number 6
1987 November

Alice Munro has published over eighty stories. Within that body of work there is a "continuity and coherence," just as there is within each individual story and within each of her six volumes. Each whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Thus, if we remove a story from the collection in which it appears, the story is suddenly drained of some of its significance. Yet that is precisely what Dr. Martin does in his chapter on Munro's recent stories. He discusses six stories from her latest collection, The Progress of Love.* but ignores the other five. Instead of impatiently rushing his own book into print, Martin should have waited for the publication of Progress. Because he didn't, his conclusions seem tentative and premature, marring what is otherwise a thoughtful evaluation.

After outlining some of the key features of Munro's work, Martin takes us back to the earliest stories. Although the general reader will probably be unfamiliar with them, Munro's early uncollected stories anticipate many features of her mature work. In Martin's second chapter we discover Munro's tendency to place her protagonists in the middle of a difficult situation, "torn between opposing views." We then see her experimenting for the first time with beginning a story in medias res. Soon after, she solves the narrative point of view problem of "commingling. . .first-person commitment and third-person detachment." Having solved these and other technical problems, Munro gains the confidence and expertise to try something more ambitious. The result is "The Peace of Utrecht," which, according to Munro was "the first real story I ever wrote." Martin says the story (from Dance of the Happy Shades) "may be seen as marking a watershed in her territory. She emerges as a mature and accomplished artist."

The progress of Martin's criticism is cautious and chronological, moving from a discussion of Dance of the Happy Shades (Ryerson, 1968) to Lives of Girls and Women (McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 1971), then to Something I've Been Meaning to Tell You (McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 1974), Who Do You Think You Are?** and The Moons of Jupiter (Penguin, 1982). Martin's analysis of the late uncollected stories (1974-1986) is followed by an assessment of Munro's achievement. He is reluctant to impose an a priori theory on the stories; instead, his critical approach relies on old-fashioned close reading. Delicately he draws the reader's attention to the Munrovian penchant for paradox and parallel, as in this observation on Lives of Girls and Women:

"One of the fundamental paradoxes is that Del wants to find parallels, to tie things together,' to tame the world by making it familiar, but she also wants it to be mysterious, even if that means it must be terrible too. She is like Rose, who wants* "Royal Beatings" to be 'savage and splendid."

Of special interest to teachers and students of Can Lit is the material dealing with the problem of linked stories versus novel. In the dungeons of academe this "problem" has surely been flogged long enough, and perhaps Dr. Martin's sensible comments will help put it to rest. Readers will also find useful the notes, bibliographies, and indices.

Munro's stories are popular and enjoyable, but certainly rich enough to repay the kind of close critical attention they receive in Dr. Martin's study. Too bad Martin couldn't wait for The Progress of Love

Bohdan Kinczyk, Central Elgin Collegiate, St. Thomas, Ont.

*Reviewed vol. XV/1 January 1987 p.19.
**Reviewed vol. VII/4 Autumn 1979 p.216.

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