on March 14, 2002
Alice Munro is the eminent Canadian award winning author of international fame. It is remarkable to find that Alice Munro is the only living author with a full-time professional career spent in writing short fiction. Her standards and her talent are quite breathtaking.
She pours into each of her short stories the feeling of various Canadian regions and their characters, while offering appurtenance to the lives of her readers around the world. This is definitely not provincial writing, but worldly.
In addition, she delivers the depth of a novel into many of her short works. Her new collection contains seven stories of roughly the same length,each around thirty pages,with two novellas of around 50 pages each serving as bookends. They are a treat.
First off, Marriage, takes place in a small town when trains still joined communities and people wrote letters. It starts with a woman, Johanna, who wants to ship furniture to Saskatchewan. For why? Everyone is curious. Half the town knows the stationmaster personally, and guesswork pours over coffee cups. By end of the story we learn Johanna could have benefited from the advice a Toronto judge recently gave a neophyte lawyer, Don't ever assume anything.
Floating Bridge is next. An Ontario woman named Jinny examines the reasons for her petty anger, out of which she comes to terms with her cancer. In a story called Comfort, religious-right creationists edge their way into a school, and begin to make life uncomfortable for a science instructor teaching evolution.
What is Remembered, set in Vancouver and Victoria concerns the chance meeting between a bush pilot-doctor and a woman who has just attended the funeral of her husband's friend who may have committed suicide. Here, while telling a slight story, Munro's writing brilliantly captures the unease between the two.
Most of the stories appear to occur in the immediate past, when rental cars had no radios, and many people smoked and spoke of ciggie-boos. Yet, they deal with current high-profile issues such as euthanasia, and coping with old age deterioration.
Five of these first appeared in the New Yorker. All are of
consistent high quality.
on December 11, 2001
Alice Munro's short stories don't always impress me -- some seem too sedate, others too offbeat. However, this collection was very enjoyable. The lead story, which shares its title with the book, is wonderfully ironic and very well written, with characters that are drawn quickly and even sketchily, and yet they have such depth that if I were a critic, I would consider this Munro's masterpiece. All the stories in this collection refer to acts of love, but they are realistic. A woman has an affair that lasts a few hours but in her memories is maintained for a lifetime. Old childhood friends meet again as adults with the outcome far more and far less than the woman expected (the man, as usual, expected nothing). Women learn about themselves not just through romantic relationships but through the loving or non-loving family relationships they find. These are good stories, moving at the calm pace of reminiscences. Very well done. I was sorry when I finished the last story. I wanted more.
on November 27, 2001
To the book's credit, the stories contained in this book are once again original, as is the custom with Alice Munro. That is what earned the book the three stars it received. On the downside, the stories were somewhat dull and the characters weak. With one or two exceptions, most characters came across as aging individuals, far older than their years. Love is beautiful at any age but from a psychological point of view, the characters' actions and words do not appear to fall in line with what we are told of the personalities of the individuals. Some may find the book inspiring, and the majaority of stories had a great deal of potential that simply fell short when it came to character development. The stories are interesting to a certain degree but it is not likely a book that will "set the world on fire" and long be remembered.
on December 19, 2001
Though some may call this a collection of short stories, when I finished reading each selection, I felt as though I had read a novel in beautiful miniature. Munro's characters are fully drawn; they grow and breathe as you read, and her plots are like quilts-pieced together in compositions that please as a whole and in parts. Love and its fickle, evanescent ways provide Munro's themes. A young woman watches her older sister handle her demanding husband along with other men; an aging man reflects on his love life while worrying about his wife's flirtations in a nursing home. In another writer's hands, these vignettes would fall short of the requirements for literature, but in Munro's experienced hands, these become seeds for enduring, indeed at times breathtaking, art.
on December 13, 2001
Alice Munro writes with a skillful hand. How enjoyable! How absolutely enjoyable! I found the several stories that comprise her book to be quite inspiring. And, important in today's world, they do nibble around the edges of teaching character. I only wish there were more. Perhaps there will be more in future books? While you're waiting for the next one, I recommend you get a full treatment of hateship, friendship, morals, and character by reading the hundreds of TRUE stories in "West Point" by Norman Thomas Remick. No nibbling around the edges there. But, by all means, make sure you read Alice Munro's "Hateship, Friendship, ...". It will be wonderfully and gently poignant to many readers.
on January 1, 2002
What I love about short stories is that they are short. The writer, if good at his/her craft, has to get to it, now. No beating around the proverbial bush. And so it is with Alice Munro's "Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage: Stories". Heck, the title is almost as long as several of the stories told within.
This is the first Alice Munro collection that I have had the pleasure of reading. I'm hooked.
Like home cooking. Her folksy dialogues and her excellent characterizations, ie; "Her teeth were crowded to the front of her mouth as if they were ready for an argument.", quickly endeared me to her writing style. Her simple words and discriptions made me feel warm and cozy.
This is the kind of book that you can pack around with you. When it comes time for your lunch break at work, you can haul out the book and read a complete story. This is good stuff for someone who is forever on the run, like me! Cammy Diaz, lawyer.
on March 27, 2002
Why would I impulsively urge teenagers to resist [other books]and read Alice Munro? Because, I suspect, they'd be lucky to be set anything that good in post-modern high school.
Munro plunged early into her first marriage and child bearing. There was more to her than the "reproductive daze, swamped by maternal juices", to borrow her sarcasm. She was not drowning, but saving ammunition. She published her first book at 37 and is still there at 70.
Language, sex, love, marriage, fate and death - Munro knows all their rhymes. The title for her 11th book comes from an imagined girls' game, along the lines of he loves me-he loves me not.
The leading situations of the stories appear simple, repetitive even.
Johanna, a stolid home-help, is lured onto the cross-Canada train by faked courtship letters. A widow has to settle affairs after her husband's planned suicide. Suffering cancer, a wife savours a single kiss with a cocky youth. One aspiring writer discovers new slants on sin and death, and another rediscovers a now-married childhood sweetheart.
While one young mother realises the smallness of her married life, another discerns the subtle point of a one-day affair. An older woman puzzles over the fate of Queenie, her lost stepsister.
Routinely, Munro stories take 30-40 pages to get from A to B and back through A again. She is a competitive writer in the best sense, almost preferring death to a failure to engage. She is determined to create some reverberations that the dutiful reader cannot help but absorb.
In Munro, I will accommodate habits that are annoying in lesser writers. I don't mind hearing one more time how she found her vocation. No matter if a single story wants to wander wilfully over three generations. Not a problem if the final paragraph charts the future life course of a principal character.
The disposition of restraint that greatly enhances the stories is the author's crystalline, yet charitable, view of human nature. The time-honoured technique that brings her view to life is an unerring ability to recreate regional speech and manners.
Laid out before Munro's eye, a crudely aspiring Southern Ontario dinner table presents fine gradations of behaviour that would do an oriental court proud. "There had to be far too much food, and most of the conversation had to do with the food," recalls her first aspiring writer. "There was a feeling that conversation that passed beyond certain understood limits might be a disruption, a showing-off. My mother's understanding of the limits was not reliable, and she sometimes could not wait out the pauses or honor the aversion to follow-up."
Reduced to an "information machine", Johanna's station agent decides that she lacks country manners, indeed has no manners at all. Not for his eyes are the nuances at Milady's, where Johanna blurts out her marriage plans while choosing a travelling dress. This is how Munro closes off the scene: "She must have felt she owed this person something - that they'd been through the disaster of the green suit and the discovery of the brown dress together and that was a bond. Which was nonsense. The woman was in the business of selling clothes, and she'd succeeded in doing just that."
Stripping the characters of their clothes if not pretences, Munro has always been an incisive reporter of sexual love. Not for her the slightly pornographic thrum of a Vladimir Nabokov, or the sexual tristesse of a Raymond Carver. She is closer to a Frederick Barthelme in directly accessing the torpid shame, dangerous electricity or dizzy elation of sex.
Munro's second aspiring writer no longer believes that "the high enthusiasm of sex fused people's best selves". Still, she aches to seduce the chaste companion of her childhood. The next day, somewhat returned to her senses, she is given this beautiful line: "Lust that had given me shooting pains in the night was all chastened and trimmed back into a tidy pilot flame, attentive, wifely."
Through their sexual encounters, or other peak revelations, the characters may glimpse an intersection between what fate deals us, and what we can do about it. They might hear the precise few words on which a present life turns, or feel an intimation of an alternate life unturned. This one could have been a husband. That one is a weak love, which will fade. The other one, a strong love, is not usable in the circumstances.
And, as ever, there are the tart aphorisms. "After their short, happy marriage," Munro deadpans, "they were sent to separate cemeteries to lie beside their first, more troublesome, partners."
It would take a special kind of honey to clear this mordant line from the back of the throat.
The title piece (Johanna's story) and one or two others compete for best of the litter. Comparing this collection with Open Secrets (1994), or The Progress of Love (1986), Munro seems to be holding her form.
This writer is the antithesis of the tortured artist. Faithful to what she knows, averaging one book every three years, she seems to have achieved much of what was originally within her reach.
(From the Canberra Times,23 March 2002)
on July 10, 2014
It was great to get this book. "Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage" fills an important gep in a collection. Interest was sparked by the film based on "The Bear Went Over The Mountain" short story.
on December 14, 2013
Of course the English language was beautiful - wonderful way with words - but surely since Alice Munro seems to have such a happy life, she must know some normal - happy people - people with happy marriages - people that enjoy life.
I only finished reading this book because it was our Book Club's choice - but I'd never read it for pleasure
on February 16, 2002
Word by word, phrase by phrase, sentence by sentence ... a great wordsmith. I just kept waiting for something to happen. After three attempts at reading it and falling asleep, I gave up, returned the book to the library, and went back to my latest New Yorker. --- The title intrigued me; the reviews suggested an inspired read; the author sounds like she has lots to say; I was disappointed not to make the connection ... maybe next year.