Munro's world is one of post-war Canada, when women are beginning to experience a constrained kind of freedom. In "What is Remembered", a chance meeting at a funeral has a profound, yet stabilising effect on Meriel, a young wife and mother. "Young husbands", writes Munro, "were stern in those days". Between learning how to kowtow to bosses and manage wives, there was so much else to learn: mortgages, lawns and politics for a start. The wives, meantime, were afforded the opportunity of "a second kind of adolescence"--but only in the confines of the family home, while the men were absent, and only after wifely jobs were accounted for.
In the title story of this collection, Enid, the self-sacrificing practical nurse, is transformed into someone else after she has the sickly and evil Mrs. Quinn as a patient before Mrs. Quinn dies. Without warning, Mrs. Quinn confesses conspiring with her husband to conceal a murder.Up to then, Enid thought of Rupert Quinn as a good man and devoted husband. Does "the love of a good woman" have the power of redemption:? Read the story to get Alice Munro's always astonishing perspective on the subject of goodness.
In Wenlock Edge, a college student in London, Ontario, acquires a curious roommate in Nina, who tricks the narrator into a revealing dinner date with Nina's paramour, the significantly older Mr. Purvis. Child's Play, a dark story about children's capacity for cruelty and the longevity of their secrets, introduces two summer camp friends, Marlene and Charlene, who form a pact against the slightly disturbing Verna, whose family used to share Marlene's duplex. The title, and final, story, the collection's longest and most ambitious, takes the reader to 19th-century Europe to meet Sophia Kovalevski, a talented mathematician and novelist who grapples with the politics of the age and the consequences of success. While this story lacks some of the effortlessness found in Munro's finest work, the collection delivers what she's renowned for: poignancy, flesh and blood characters and a style nothing short of elegant.
In this collection, Alice Munro takes mainly the lives of women, and brings their hidden desires bubbling to the surface. The love of a good woman is not as pure and virtuous as it seems - as in her title story, it can be needy and murderous.
In the first story a young wife and mother receives release from the unbearable pain of losing her three children from a most surprising source. In another, a young woman, in the aftermath of an unusual and humiliating seduction, reacts in a clever if less-than-admirable fashion. Other stories uncover the 'deep-holes' in a marriage, the unsuspected cruelty of children, and how a boy's disfigured face provides both the good things in his life and the bad. And in the long title story, we accompany Sophia Kovalevsky - a late-nineteenth-century Russian émigré and mathematician.
A writer of Munro's ilk hardly needs a hook like the intriguing title of her 10th collection to pull readers into her orbit. Serving as a teasing introduction to these nine brilliantly executed tales, the range of mentioned relationships merely suggests a few of the nuances of human behavior that Munro evokes with the skill of a psychological magician. Johanna Parry, the protagonist of the title story, stands alone among her fictional sisters in achieving her goal by force of will. A rough, uneducated country girl, blatantly plain ("her teeth were crowded into the front of her mouth as if they were ready for an argument"), she seems doomed to heartbreak because of a teenager's trick, but the bracingly ironic denouement turns the reader's dire expectations into glee. The women in the other stories generally cannot control their fate. Having finally been reunited with the soul mate of her youth, the narrator of "Nettles" discovers that apparently benevolent fate can be cruel.
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