s.penkevich's Reviews > Selected Stories

Selected Stories by Alice Munro
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it was amazing
bookshelves: short-story, canadian_gothic, love

The complexity of things - the things within things - just seems to be endless. I mean nothing is easy, nothing is simple.

From short accounts of singular events to the sprawling history of a life or love affair, Alice Munro shows it is the little things that matter most. These ‘things within things’ - the greater truth in the smallest of details, are the hearts and souls of her fiction. Selected Stories is an excellent best-of introduction to the author as it collects 28 stories from three decades of her prestigious career to reveal an incredible scope of emotion and sincerity. In the vein of authors such as William Faulkner or Anton Chekhov, Munro unlocks the lives of women through her keen eye for acute observation and characterization.

Along with authors such as Margaret Atwood, Munro has been classified as a member of the ‘Southern Ontario Gothic’ ¹. Much like the Southern Gothic to which Flannery O'Connor and William Faulkner belong (I was recommended Munro due to my obsession with those two authors which characterized my reading selection during my late teens and early twenties), Munro’s fiction builds on the social, political, moral and religious atmosphere of her region as the past is always shaping the present in the lives of her characters. Her characters are play out their dramas on a stage of society, chafing of the relationships with lovers and family or social constructs, instead of on the playing field of plot. The plot is rather secondary, existing primarily as a method of illustrating the passage of time, either in a small, single event such as the boredom of a commonplace formality shattered by a surprising twist of unique characters entering the scene ((view spoiler)) or the entire lifespan of a woman. Very rarely are the plot mechanics the take-away message of a story. Her efforts to effect a realistic passage of time leads many to compare her to Chekhov as well as the Southern Gothic, such as in Garan Holocombe’s critical analysis of Munro for the British Council of Literature ²:
Alice Munro is routinely spoken of in the same breath as Anton Chekov. She resembles the Russian master in a number of ways. She is fascinated with the failings of love and work and has an obsession with time. There is the same penetrating psychological insight; the events played out in a minor key; the small town settings. In Munro’s fictional universe, as in Chekhov’s, plot is of secondary importance: all is based on the epiphanic moment, the sudden enlightenment, the concise, subtle, revelatory detail. Another significant feature of Munro’s is the (typically Canadian) connection to the land, to what Margaret Atwood has called a ‘harsh and vast geography.’ Munro is attuned to the shifts and colours of the natural world, to life lived with the wilderness. Her skill at describing the constituency of the environment is equal to her ability to get below the surface of the lives of her characters.

Time is always escaping us, and many of her stories reflect our desire to makes sense of the time that has slipped through us in order to understand the route we should take through the time that awaits us.

Munro’s focal characters, almost always female, are built through – and in the instance of first-person narration view their personalities through – a conglomeration of events and past actions. A unique side-effect of having a selected stories collection is that the reader is able to witness Munro growing as an author as she ages and see how her own progression down life’s timeline corresponds to her characters and stories. While her earliest stories are typically shorter and play out through a shorter amount of time, her later stories are vast and encompass the whole of ones life. Her characters are often confronting time itself in her later stories, be it a confrontation with their impending end, or to find their place within the greater society or family system as the years fall away. They are caught in a sort of limbo between the person they were and they person they will become with the story often ending just of the fringes of any sort of resolution.

Instead of positioning characters in high-energy situations, Munro constructs her stories around the mundane. Her fiction never strays from a portrait of reality, of life as we all know it, and acted out by everyday individuals. While often nothing striking or particularly plot-point worthy occurs, Munro is able to deliver an emotional and psychological punch through the tiny, ordinary details that make up our day-to-day. Her acute observations exploit the tiniest of details to reveal a startlingly large amount of character and information, be it the way a character dresses, speaks to strangers, or the methods in which they attempt to keep a household. For Munro, the world and people in it are like poetry where she is able to extract the greatest amount from the small ideas.

The criticisms for her work primarily focus on a lack of versatility in plot or voice. While it is true that a vast majority of her stories have the same formula of ‘woman leaving one position of life, be it a relationship, job, living location, religions conviction, eventual death of oneself or a loved one, etc., and begins to forge a new one by critiquing the mistakes of the former’, Munro is able to still keep each story unique, yet familiar in a sense that makes it seem applicable to any reader in some way, shape or form. The voice is often level from story to story, yet, especially with this selected stories collection, she manages to keep the delivery fresh by attempting different story telling devices. Carried Away, which is quite possibly my favorite of hers, begins with the correspondence of a librarian and a soldier during WWII and then moves to a third-person narrative in the second half, while Wilderness Station has the final third of the story shift to characters two generations down the line from the characters of previous segments and allows the reader to fill in the gaps through hints in dialogue and the interaction of characters to understand how the former plot concluded. While this collection varies in themes, the individual books of hers usually have a common theme for which the stories build upon. She also revisits characters in some books, checking in on them at various stages of their lives, which I felt added to the stories and felt like visiting an old friend as opposed to adding to what is considered by some to be recycling ideas and failing to rise from the same monotone of voice.

I have been picking through Munro’s Selected Stories for several years now, slowly savoring every story. Each time I dive back in, I am always glad to discover that Munro still satisfies and meets my ever-changing tastes in literature. From tales of love, loss and alienation, Alice Munro proves herself again and again to be a powerful voice in not only women’s literature, but in the wide scope of literature and story telling. Her stories are moving, insightful, witty, and always leave you feeling as if you had just spent time in the company of a friend.
5/5


¹ ‘Alice Munro and the Southern Ontario Gothic genre’
² Garan Holocombe ‘s criticism for the British Council of Literature

Always remember that when a man goes out of the room, he leaves everything in it behind... When a woman goes out she carries everything that happened in the room along with her.
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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
September 24, 2011 – Shelved
December 3, 2011 – Shelved as: short-story
November 3, 2012 – Shelved as: canadian_gothic
November 3, 2012 – Shelved as: love

Comments Showing 1-50 of 51 (51 new)


message 1: by Greg (new)

Greg Great review! That's like a proper review. I'm jealous. Ugh. I love Alice Munro. I've yet to read one of her books cover to cover, but I've read tons of her short stories in anthologies, magazines, and random ones from books. She's a master.


message 2: by Richard (new)

Richard You write very good reviews. Penk, but this time you've outdone yourself.


message 3: by Jonathan (new) - added it

Jonathan Terrington I think this is also one of the finest of your reviews you've written. It's probably the most balanced and I love how you link her to being like Chekhov. Since I of late have a fascination with the short story this is a collection I must delve into!


message 4: by Rakhi (new) - added it

Rakhi Dalal Again a good review Sven! Its a joy to see that your reviews(especially when you love a work) are always a feast to the senses. I loved the last quote:

Always remember that when a man goes out of the room, he leaves everything in it behind... When a woman goes out she carries everything that happened in the room along with her.

Quite up to the mark I would say!


message 5: by Mike (new)

Mike Puma You're a reviewing machine lately, spenkerz, one that gets better and better. If there's something in the water up there, keep drinking it.


message 6: by Arah-Lynda (new)

Arah-Lynda Wow, you definitely raise the bar on review writing.


message 7: by Kris (new) - added it

Kris Masterful review, s.penk. It's so difficult to write reviews of short story collections, but you've taken an approach that provides wonderful insight into her approach to writing, addresses criticism of her writing, and gives wonderfully chosen examples of specific stories.


message 8: by Garima (new)

Garima Sven thinking after posting this review,"Phew! Now I can concentrate on my job at least for a week without feeling guilty having posted 3 reviews back to back on Goodreads." ;)

Since I'm finding myself greatly inclined towards short stories lately, Alice Munro is someone I want to read real soon. Yup! And Oh...Great Review!


message 9: by s.penkevich (last edited Nov 04, 2012 06:34AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

s.penkevich Greg: Thank you! Yeah, I like how she seems to pop up everywhere. I recently read a new story of hers in a 'Summer Reading 2012', it was actually one of the better stories I've read from her and to think that she's 81 and only getting better is really cool. She has a new collection due out this month, might be a good place to start for reading a cover-to-cover collection!

Richard: Thank you, glad to see I can still improve! I sort of went at this one in a high school paper fashion and decided to try to include the 'state opposing arguments and refute them' paragraph that I had always hated doing.

Jonathan: Yeah, I was actually writing this review while we were discussing Chekhov and Faulkner in a different thread for totally different reasons. It's weird how coincidences like that happen.

Rakhi: I must admit that final quote is not actually in this collection but actually from a story of hers in Too Much Happiness, but it fit so well in a review offering a general overlook of her stories. Thank you so very much!

Mike: 00000001 10000100 00100000100 000110000 Review machine is now fully operational 000010111 00010 My heart is human, my blood is boiling, my brain IBM

Arah-Lynda: Thank you, you are too kind. I just thought Munro should get her dues on Goodreads and write up something bloated to see if I could get her another reader or two. She was supposedly short-listed for Nobel candidates the past few years, I've always been secretly hoping she gets it.

Kris: Muchas gracias! I see you added this one, I hope you check Munro out. To steal a idea from a quote in Cloud Atlas, reading her stories is like entering into a love affair. She has such grace and insight that has always really struck me. Thank you, s.s. reviewing is rather awkward, especially one like this where there is no common thread other that the author. Glad this one managed to do it justice!

Garima: haha exactly! I've been sort of pushing myself to see if I can bust out a few reviews a week, I always sit down with the intention 'okay, this one is going to be short and direct'. 2 hours later.... haha. I hope you find a copy of her stories, she is really cool and, at least from how I see it, her stories are very female empowering similar to how Woolf was. Thank you, you are always too kind!


message 10: by Martha (new)

Martha I agree, you write excellent reviews! In fact, I wonder if you ever think of writing short stories yourself.


s.penkevich Martha wrote: "I agree, you write excellent reviews! In fact, I wonder if you ever think of writing short stories yourself."

Thank you so much. I've entertained the idea, but I always fall victim to 'the self is your harshest critic' problem and never get very far ha. Hopefully someday though.


message 12: by Greg (new)

Greg s.penkevich wrote: "Greg: Thank you! Yeah, I like how she seems to pop up everywhere. I recently read a new story of hers in a 'Summer Reading 2012', it was actually one of the better stories I've read from her and to..."

I was planning on adding thew new Alice Munro to the top of my TBR pile and you just drove her a little higher.

The refutation was always one of my favorites parts of papers. It's how I figured out if I actually liked something or not, but that might just be because I'm weird and have to figure out how much I like something by figuring out why other people hate it. I still do that actually, haha.


s.penkevich Greg wrote: "s.penkevich wrote: "Greg: Thank you! Yeah, I like how she seems to pop up everywhere. I recently read a new story of hers in a 'Summer Reading 2012', it was actually one of the better stories I've ..."

That is a good point about refutation solidifying your own opinions. It really does reveal if you find something worth fighting for. With reviewing I've always worried it would be construed as telling people 'your wrong!' so I've been slowly figuring how to work it in subtly and politely hah. Your method of always figuring out the refutation is probably really helpful, have you had any good instances when trying to think of the negatives has talked you out of liking a book haha?


message 14: by B0nnie (new)

B0nnie Munro is one of my favourite writers. Thank you for liking her, s.penkevich. I'm sure I've read all these stories in the original collections and you've made it difficult not to go back and re-read them! I love how her stories generally balance on a subtle moment of epiphany - easy to miss - but suddenly when it hits you (maybe after re-reading...) watch out, there will be pain.


s.penkevich B0nnie wrote: "Munro is one of my favourite writers. Thank you for liking her, s.penkevich. I'm sure I've read all these stories in the original collections and you've made it difficult not to go back and re-rea..."

So true, there is such a tortured reality to her stories. The lost love ones really get me. I really like how you put that about the easy to miss subtle moments of epiphany; that is what really grabs the heart is how the loss or whatever it is isn't a big one-instant change, but usually some subtle epiphanic moment brought on by years of erosion. I'm glad you love Munro as well, she is so wonderful! Her new collection comes out in a few weeks, we should do a co-read and discuss!


message 16: by [deleted user] (new)

You have done me a great service. I have heard of Munro. All I knew about her is that she is a Canadian writer of some repute. My Gosh, man...how little I knew. I must read her. Masterful review.


message 17: by B0nnie (new)

B0nnie s.penkevich wrote: "B0nnie wrote: "Munro is one of my favourite writers. Thank you for liking her, s.penkevich. I'm sure I've read all these stories in the original collections and you've made it difficult not to go ..."

s., yes I discovered Munro in a literature class at university many moons ago. She was a revelation. Her stories seemed like distant memories that I couldn't quite recall, but yet I knew they were a part of me. I suck at co-reads btw.


s.penkevich Steve wrote: "You have done me a great service. I have heard of Munro. All I knew about her is that she is a Canadian writer of some repute. My Gosh, man...how little I knew. I must read her. Masterful review."

Thank you very much Steve! Yeah, Munro is really cool. She's a name that manages to reach most ears, but I still feel she is slightly neglected. Hope you give her a try!


s.penkevich B0nnie wrote: "s.penkevich wrote: "B0nnie wrote: "Munro is one of my favourite writers. Thank you for liking her, s.penkevich. I'm sure I've read all these stories in the original collections and you've made it ..."

That's alright, me too. I always throw it out there though. Nice, I wish we would have been taught some Munro. Do you recall which story it was they taught?


message 20: by Jeffrey (new)

Jeffrey Luscombe One of my favourite writers! Taught me everything in know ;)


message 21: by Hend (new)

Hend These ‘things within things’ - the greater truth in the smallest of details.

I loved this quote.

WOW!my friend is a great Literary critic!
:)

Now u Know Why u deserve envy;)
u should wear the blue necklace (This is URGENT:):)


message 22: by Steve (new)

Steve I recall trying to sum up a collection of Munro's stories a while ago, and only got as far as saying they seemed to feature conflict and Canadian women. You got way further than that, and it was great.

Did you see the movie Away from Her? It was based on a Munro story of a woman suffering from Alzheimer's. Julie Christie was great in the lead role (nominated for a Best Actress Oscar) and Rotten Tomatoes had it at 95% positive.

I see Munro is one of Bonnie's favorite writers. Isn't it just like those xenophobic Canadians to promote their own? ;-) Actually, I can understand it in this case.


message 23: by Greg (new)

Greg s.penkevich wrote: "Greg wrote: "s.penkevich wrote: "Greg: Thank you! Yeah, I like how she seems to pop up everywhere. I recently read a new story of hers in a 'Summer Reading 2012', it was actually one of the better ..."

I don't think I've talked myself out of liking books by thinking about the negatives and reading other people's opinions. It definitely always temper my initial excitement. Every time I finish a book I like I'm flush with enthusiasm and think it's the greatest book ever written, but then I slowly start to pick it apart more and more as I think about it.

The opposite seems to happen more often, where I won't like, but then will slowly come around. It's something about the subjective versus the objective. I dunno. The most recent example I can think of is Karen Thompson Walker's The Age of Miracles. I didn't much like it when I finished it even though I objectively knew it was well-written, but as time has gone on I've begun to appreciate how she uses the ice cold tone and mundane setting to comment on both humanity's survival and self-destructive impulses.


message 24: by Richard (new)

Richard Jeffrey wrote: "One of my favourite writers! Taught me everything in know ;)"

I first read two of her stories in high school. Maybe I was a little young to appreciate them then, but I didn't forget them. Later I rediscovered her, and there was just an authentic feel to her stories. It's hard to express what I mean, but I've been a big fan ever since.


message 25: by B0nnie (new)

B0nnie s.penkevich wrote: "B0nnie wrote: "s.penkevich wrote: "B0nnie wrote: "Munro is one of my favourite writers. Thank you for liking her, s.penkevich. I'm sure I've read all these stories in the original collections and ..."

It was the collection called The Moons of Jupiter. The stories are so Canadian and familiar to me. I can't be objective about them. But I guess that's just my wacky Canadian xenophobia!


s.penkevich Hend wrote: "These ‘things within things’ - the greater truth in the smallest of details.

I loved this quote.

WOW!my friend is a great Literary critic!
:)

Now u Know Why u deserve envy;)
u should wear the b..."


Thank you Hend! I'm still looking out for a blue necklace like that, got to keep the evil eye away!


s.penkevich Steve wrote: "I recall trying to sum up a collection of Munro's stories a while ago, and only got as far as saying they seemed to feature conflict and Canadian women. You got way further than that, and it was g..."

Yeah, I actually own the 'movie novella' version of that haha. I think the stories original title is The Bear Went Over the Mountain if your trying to locate it. The film is pretty good, although it does take a slightly different stance on if the women had A. forgotten her husband due to alzheimer's or B. Lets on that she has forgotten him in order to move on with her twilight years. Both are really good, just quite sad.

Haha, Canadians. They stick together (must be the sticky maple syrup!) I jest.


s.penkevich B0nnie wrote: "s.penkevich wrote: "B0nnie wrote: "s.penkevich wrote: "B0nnie wrote: "Munro is one of my favourite writers. Thank you for liking her, s.penkevich. I'm sure I've read all these stories in the origi..."

Oh nice. I had a textbook for my freshman year lit class that contained the story 'Wild Swans' in it, that was my first introduction to Munro although it wasn't a required read. It wasn't until a few years later when I picked up the Selected that I realized I had already sampled her.


s.penkevich Greg wrote: "s.penkevich wrote: "Greg wrote: "s.penkevich wrote: "Greg: Thank you! Yeah, I like how she seems to pop up everywhere. I recently read a new story of hers in a 'Summer Reading 2012', it was actuall..."

Seems like a good way to go about reading though, and allowing yourself a more balanced opinion. I often like to go to amazon and laugh/sneer at the 1 star reviews for classics that I like, but it often shows some truth too


message 30: by Kalliope (new)

Kalliope Wonderful review.. you are very good at transmitting your sense of wonder.


message 31: by Steve (new)

Steve Spenky wrote: "I think the stories original title is The Bear Went Over the Mountain if your trying to locate it."

Yes, it was originally published in her Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage collection. If I recall, Grant's story prior to her Alzheimer's was a little different, too. I agree, both the movie and the story were sad, but powerful.

And he also wrote: "Haha, Canadians. They stick together"

It's fun to tease those practically perfect Canadians about something, isn't it? Just to reassure Bonnie about where my true sentiments lie, we had nothing but great encounters with the people around Vancouver during our summer vacation there. That includes the folks at Munro's Bookstore in Victoria -- a place Alice and her ex established when they lived there.


s.penkevich Oh nice, glad you read that one. That is a good example of how half the time her 'short' stories might as well just be books. Oh yeah, didn't the film switch up the order of events a bit? And did the film have his past infidelities with the grad student? I might see if Netflix has that to watch it again.

Really? There is a Munro Bookstore? I need to go there! That is awesome. She had a cool story about a woman working in a bookstore, can't think of the title now. Also, my family is from the upper peninsula of Michigan, which is practically Canadian anyways ha. That and Windsor was a great place to hang out between the ages of 19-21...


s.penkevich Kalliope wrote: "Wonderful review.. you are very good at transmitting your sense of wonder."

Thank you Kalliope! I really love Munro, so I'm glad that came through to reach others.


s.penkevich Richard wrote: "Jeffrey wrote: "One of my favourite writers! Taught me everything in know ;)"

I first read two of her stories in high school. Maybe I was a little young to appreciate them then, but I didn't forge..."


I know what you mean, often a story of hers didn't reach me until a year or two after I read it and some life event would occur and I'd think 'Munro totally nailed down this emotion in X story!'.


message 35: by Laima (last edited Nov 06, 2012 09:49AM) (new) - added it

Laima What a great review! I have heard of Alice Munro a LOT because she is Canadian and see many of her books in the bargain bins for $5 a piece. Your review really makes me want to read her stories now.


message 36: by Richard (new)

Richard Laima wrote: "What a great review! I have heard of Alice Munroe a LOT because she is Canadian and see many of her books in the bargain bins for $5 a piece. Your review really makes me want to read her stories now."

Laima, NAB THE BARGAINS!!!!


s.penkevich I agree with Richard, hurry quick!


message 38: by Laima (new) - added it

Laima Steve wrote: "I recall trying to sum up a collection of Munro's stories a while ago, and only got as far as saying they seemed to feature conflict and Canadian women. You got way further than that, and it was g..."

Away From Her was a great movie! I didn't realize it was based on Munro's story.


message 39: by globulon (new) - added it

globulon Interesting coincidence, I just read an Alice Munro story in an anthology that I liked and was debating buying this book. Your review pushed me to do it.


s.penkevich Thirteenth Peer wrote: "Interesting coincidence, I just read an Alice Munro story in an anthology that I liked and was debating buying this book. Your review pushed me to do it."

Glad I could do that! Hope you enjoy it, Munro is really awesome.


message 41: by Will (new)

Will Byrnes Wow! Great job, again. I confess I often find short stories mystifying. It helps to have the advantage of someone who gets what is going on to light a path for those who, like, me often have difficulty perceiving. That said, I have read a few collections of stories by Ron Rash, and they are amazing.


s.penkevich Will wrote: "Wow! Great job, again. I confess I often find short stories mystifying. It helps to have the advantage of someone who gets what is going on to light a path for those who, like, me often have diffic..."

Thank you very much Will! One positive to Munro, especially her later works, is that many become more or less novellas and there is plenty to cling to and become immersed in. Ron Rash, hmm, he does sound good. I'd never heard of him until just now, so thank you very much! I'm definitely going to give him a try.


message 43: by mark (new)

mark monday you write great reviews, penk.


message 44: by Laima (new) - added it

Laima just downloaded Serena by Ron Rash.
I can't wait to start reading it!!


message 45: by Will (new)

Will Byrnes Serena is a GREAT book - enjoy


s.penkevich mark wrote: "you write great reviews, penk."

Thank you very much Mark!


s.penkevich Laima wrote: "just downloaded Serena by Ron Rash.
I can't wait to start reading it!!"


Nice. I'm about to head to work and if we have any Ron Rash I am buying it!


message 48: by Steve (new)

Steve Will turned me on to Ron Rash, too. Read Serena and see if you don't picture Jennifer Lawrence secuced by the dark side.


message 49: by Richard (new)

Richard Steve wrote: "Will turned me on to Ron Rash, too. Read Serena and see if you don't picture Jennifer Lawrence seduced by the dark side."

This author certainly seems to be provoking a rash of excitement. I'm getting hives just thinking about this book.


message 50: by Will (new)

Will Byrnes I would scratch that itch


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