Alice Munro, Runaway (2004)

This is generally proclaimed as the collection that finally got Munro the recognition she deserves as a writer – winning the very important Man Booker International Prize in 2009.  Everything I’ve said in previous posts (here and here) about Munro applies here so I won’t repeat myself.  This is an excellent collection.

The stories are about women trying to get away from things – conventions, expectations, marriages, families, memories, pasts, futures – women trying to break free in some way.  But of course, breaking free of one situation has consequences and can lead you into another trap, as the main character in the title story discovers.

The opening story, ‘Runaway’, is followed by three interlinked stories about a woman called Juliet; they move from her chance meeting with the man she ends up living with, to her difficult relationship with her parents, to the disappearance of her adult daughter.  I found the last of the three stories, ‘Silence’, very disturbing, probably because I can’t deal with loss myself and the possibility of someone I love vanishing from my life without any explanation (leaving me to wonder why) is one of my worst nightmares.

‘Trespassers’ is a tremendous story about a child who begins to suspect she’s adopted, only to find an even darker secret lurking in her family.  The representation of the feckless, privileged, hippy parents and the damage they’ve done is very sharp in this story.

‘Tricks’ is another great story.  It’s about a woman who treats herself to a Shakespeare play once a year to get away from her humdrum life.  On one of these trips, she meets a man with whom she forms a connection.  She agrees to come back the following year and he asks her to wear the same green dress.  This one is about how the random cruelty of fate can shape lives.

At the centre of the final story, ‘Powers’, is a woman called Tessa who seems to have psychic abilities.  Her fate is sealed by the desire of those around her to not only believe in her powers but also to make use of them to their own advantage.

Awesome stuff, but very dark indeed.

The cover of my edition also provides me with an excuse to link to this interesting article by Lionel Shriver: I write a nasty book. And they want a girly cover on itRunaway is a collection of pretty nasty, challenging stories, mainly about how people end up misunderstanding and hurting each other, but what do we have on the cover?  A conventionally attractive woman in a floral print dress toying with a flower?!

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