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The Love of a Good Woman [Hardcover]

Alice Munro
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Sept. 26 1998
All of these eight wonderful stories are about what people will do for love, and the unexpected routes their passion will force them to take.

An old landlady in Vancouver who alarms the just-married narrator with her prim advice about married life – and “the peculiar threat” of a china cabinet that must be washed once a month – is shown to have conspired when young in a crime of passion. A young mother, at the mercy of the “radiant explosion” that comes when she thinks of her secret life, abandons her baby and four-year old to be with her lover in the story “The Children Stay.” A gruff old country doctor in the 1960s is discovered by his daughter to be helping desperate women, his “special patients.” An impetuous young woman meets a visiting Indian student and conceives on a train from Vancouver to Toronto because of “the fact that you couldn’t get condoms around the Calgary station, not for love or money.” An Ontario farm wife’s affair drives her husband to commit a murder; its discovery, years later, will act as a negotiating point for a new, presumably satisfactory, marriage.

The book is clear-eyed about the imperfections of marriage, the clutter of our emotional lives, and the impermanence of love: “Not that that was the end. For we did make up. But we didn’t forgive each other.” Even the shared memories of earlier times prove to be a minefield, and many of the stories track the changes that time brings over generations to families, lovers, and even to friends who share old, intimate secrets about “the prostration of love.”

As always these stories by Alice Munro are shot through with humour, and are as rich as novels. As always the characters in the stories are easily, sometimes uncomfortably, recognizable as people like us. One quote summarizes the delightful surprises that await the reader: “Did you ever think that people’s lives could be like that and end up like this? Well, they can.”

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From Amazon

In the world of Alice Munro, the best route is not necessarily the shortest distance between two points. In her ninth superlative collection of short fiction, The Love of a Good Woman, the setting is once again western Canada, and the subject matter is classic Munro: secrets, love, betrayal, and the stuff of ordinary lives. But as is usual for this master of the short form, the path she takes is anything but ordinary. The stunning title story is a case in point. A narrative in four parts, it begins with the drowning of a small-town optometrist and ripples outward, touching first the boys who find the body, then a spiteful dying woman and her young practical nurse. Whose tale is this, anyway? Not the optometrist's, surely, though his death holds it together. The effect is not exactly Rashomon-like either, though each of the sections views him through a different eye. Instead, "The Love of a Good Woman" is as thorough and inclusive a portrait of small-town life as can be imagined--its tensions and its deceit, its involuntary bonds. Within its 75 pages it encompasses a world more capacious than that of most novels.

As always, Munro's prose is both simple and moving, as when the letter-writing protagonist of "Before the Change" sends her love to an ex-fiancé:

What if people really did that--sent their love through the mail to get rid of it? What would it be that they sent? A box of chocolates with centers like the yolks of turkey's eggs. A mud doll with hollow eye sockets. A heap of roses slightly more fragrant than rotten. A package wrapped in bloody newspaper that nobody would want to open.
The fictions in this volume burn with a kind of dry-eyed anti-romanticism--even the ones whose plots verge on domestic melodrama (a baby's near-death in "My Mother's Dream"; an adulterous wife in "The Children Stay"). Densely populated, elliptical in construction, each story circles around its principal events and relationships like planets around a sun. The result is layered and complex, its patterns not always apparent on first reading: in other words, something like life. --Mary Park --This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

Again mining the silences and dark discretions of provincial Canadian life, Munro shines in her ninth collection, peopled with characters whose sin is the original one: to have eaten of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The good woman of the title story?a practical nurse who has already sacrificed her happiness to keep a deathbed promise?must choose whether to believe another moribund patient's confession or to ignore it and seize a second chance at the life she has missed. The drama of deathbed revelation is acted out, again, between a dying man and the woman at his bedside in "Cortes Island," when a stroke victim exposes his deepest secret to his part-time caretaker, in what may be the last act of intimacy left to him, and in the process puts his finger on the fault lines in her marriage. In the extraordinary "Before the Change," a young woman confronts her father with the open secret of his life and reveals the hidden facts of hers; she is unprepared, however, for the final irony of his legacy. The powerful closing story, "My Mother's Dream," is about a secret in the making, showing how a young mother almost kills her baby and how that near fatality, revealed at last to the daughter when she is 50, binds mother and daughter. Compressing the arc of a novella, Munro's long, spare stories?there are eight here? span decades and lay bare not only the strata of the solitary life but also the seamless connections and shared guilt that bind together even the loneliest of individuals. First serial to the New Yorker. (Nov.) FYI: Four of Munro's previous collections are available in Vintage paperback.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars The Love of a Good Woman Jan. 18 2014
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I have not finished reading the book, but I was disappointed by the story which bears the title of the book. I had expected something very different. Sorry, I cannot recommend it to friends.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Not quite at the Munro level, but still fabulous Nov. 2 1998
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
The theme of this short story collection is the various paths that love escorts individuals down. Some of the stories are filled with passion; other nostalgia. The characters vary as the stories vary. Love can be man and woman, mother and daughter, siblings, etc. The stories do not always end happily ever after as the characters dive deeper into morass due to one exposure after another of some dark secrets.
Alice Munro has a deserved reputation for some of the best literary works of the nineties. Her current anthology, THE LOVE OF A GOOD WOMAN, overall is a well-written collection, but does not seem to reach the level of excellence set by the author in her previous works. Though several of the eight stories are excellent, some of the tales seem to need constant shock therapy to keep the heart pumping as Ms. Munro reveals one new disjointed surprise after another to keep the story line moving, but only jolts the reader's flow. Overall, this is a fabulous book, but readers need to be aware that it is not on the Munro level of quality.

Harriet Klausner
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Authenticity and Freedom June 10 2001
Format:Hardcover
We all know that there are quite a lot of people who believe that Alice Munro is one of the greatest short story writers alive, and I could not agree with them more. But let me say what I particularly like about Alice Munro, what distinguishes her from other great writers.
First of all, there is a unique impression of authenticity. There are certain conventions in fiction about what is regarded as important or interesting; Alice Munro ignores them. She knows that tiny incidents can be the defining ones. She knows that spending a weekend with one's own daughter can be an unbearable challange which almost drives you mad. These stories do not gloss over the mundane aspects of life we have to struggle with most.
Second, Alice Munro's stories believe in human dignity and choice. Hers is a moral universe. It's not just the title story which shows us a person making a choice. We tend to just let things happen to us and pretend we cannot do anything about them; these stories show that sometimes we can (but they do not deny that very often we cannot). There is also a great story, "Jakarta", which implies that such choices are not valid forever; it's not enough to decide against betraying your husband today. The decision may feel momentous, but if you decide otherwise tomorrow it doesn't matter all that much. The problem is, however, and the story shows that too, that when you take those decisions you are very often incapable of feeling their impact.
Read these stories! This is a book for grown-ups. It will help you understand the world.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Mushy Middle but Firm Finale July 11 2000
Format:Hardcover
After the first fairly gripping story, the fiction quickly falls into some Alice Mundane prose and it seems like it's going to be that way for the long haul. The author seems to have forgotten the necessity of plot in several stories, and the reader is left dragging along to the end only because of confidence in an otherwise accomplished writer. "Cortes Island" has some worthwhile character development, but "Jakarta" and "Save the Reaper" feel like directionless wandering, as if Munro is playing the grandson's alien chase game with her story development: see a possibility, grab onto it there for a while and see where it goes and then grab onto another. While this technique can certainly be successful and give the image of "living" or "evolution" fiction, it doesn't always work, and these three stories prove it.
Furthermore, the "shocking" action of her characters is not believable enough because, despite all the drawn-out development, the reader still can't see the justification in the character's minds. Sure, everyone does the unexpected sometimes, but if all Munro's characters do that, we lose the idea of the story. Pauline, for example, in "The Children Stay," seems to feel too much devotion and affection for her children to be able to just forget them completely for a wild night of sex that leaves her sore, even though they interrupt her life. Most women find that children interfere with the professional, artistic, social (etc) lives they had before becoming mothers, so what sets Pauline apart to actually be able to leave the girls forever for a romance that turns out to be a fling anyway? Munro didn't prepare us enough for her decision, and the story is weakened.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars not her best March 31 1999
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
First, let me say that I'm a huge fan of Munro. Let me say that "Open Secrets" is THE book (okay, one of the books) I recommend to people for books that I love. And most of her early stuff ain't bad either. Let me say that as a way to lighten my negative opinion about this book. I think this book can be summed up by one of the characters in the first story (I'm paraphrasing) who's thinking about how as she got older she realized that life took more than she had and left her with less. (Something to that effect.) These stories read as if this were Munro's problem too, as if she's given her best and now she's still got to give more and she's out of gas. The stories seem tired. Case in point: she replaces the brilliant connections and observations she used to make in a paragraph with ten-fifteen pages of incidentals. So much seems like padding. Anyone has a hard time topping themselves as they get older, granted. And I think it would be hard for any mortal to write a book like "Open Secrets" in the first place, and I think it's doubly tough to try and top that. Frankly, I think she didn't top it this time or get very close. And I don't know if she's trying so hard. Since "Open Secrets" she's had a "Best of", this collection and the National Book Award. After reading these stories I think the award was given for the body of work she's created and not for the book itself. "The Love of.." feels like a book written to capitalize on someone's reputation and not to capitalize on what lies ahead. And who knows? Maybe she has another "Open Secrets" in her to share. I hope so.
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Most recent customer reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars The love of a good woman
I heard so much about this book that when it arrived in my mailbox, I quickly opened and sat down to read. Read more
Published on Aug. 31 2011 by GloWorm
4.0 out of 5 stars Powerful Stories from a Master
I am not usually a fan of short fiction, so when my book club decided we would read The Love of a Good Woman, I was skeptical. Read more
Published on July 8 2007 by Teddy
5.0 out of 5 stars Just right
Munro's tone and style have only improved with time. The Love of a Good Woman has depth and insight the mark the author's rare voice. Read more
Published on Sept. 3 2004 by Julie Pickensell
3.0 out of 5 stars 2/8 make the book worth reading
In Munro's Love Of A Good Woman 8 stories set in British Columbia or Ontario involve secrets and choices. Of these 8, only 2 are good. Read more
Published on Jan. 13 2004 by John Mutford
5.0 out of 5 stars masterful
Get this collection simply for The Children Stay, one of the
most effective evocations of ache and regret ever set down on paper (and then, because she is Alice Munro, she... Read more
Published on Aug. 31 2001 by Philip Huang
4.0 out of 5 stars Distant dreams
This collection of anachronous, dense short stories intrigued me. As a first-time Munro reader, I at first found it difficult to appreciate the patterns, details, and lack of... Read more
Published on Feb. 27 2001 by "kwkq94b"
4.0 out of 5 stars Short stories that read like a novel
I have a hard time reading short stories sometimes, but these were excellent. The first one, which titles the book, is almost a novella, very well crafted. Read more
Published on Oct. 21 2000 by Manola Sommerfeld
5.0 out of 5 stars A real treasure
I loved this book. It really makes you think about the underlying motives and loyalties that exist in people. Read more
Published on March 8 2000
5.0 out of 5 stars The Love of a Good Woman
Alice Munro is able to convey in twenty pages more character and depth than many people understand about themselves or their loved ones in a lifetime. Read more
Published on Feb. 3 2000 by justine
5.0 out of 5 stars genius
I have been reading Munro's stories for years and even the profound admiration I had for her work could not prepare me for the force of this collection. Read more
Published on Dec 7 1999 by Nathan Oates
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