When you finish reading an Alice Munro book of short stories, you honestly feel as if you've accomplished something. You feel as though you've put yourself in a long line of people that will be reading Alice Munro short stories from now until hundreds of years from now. They may be reading them in a slightly different world, one that's a little more polluted and with many more people, but they'll be reading the stories none the less. Why? Because there's no way to deny that they're great art -- wonderful glimpses into the lives of extraordinarily ordinary women who make mistakes -- and they're simply marvelous.
Runaway was in the very first package of books I ordered when I first started my job at Random House. The book, in its first hard cover edition, sat on my shelf for weeks, then months, then years. It summered up at the cottage. It wintered there as well. Until I finally committed it to the reading pile as a part of the latest Canadian Book Challenge (Runaway represents #2 in my For the Ladies Challenge) and actually managed to finish it.
Comprised of eight short stories, three of which are linked, the collection has a consistent theme: each of the female protagonists run away in some form or another. Perhaps it's in how they dress or how they act, in how they think or in a physical event that motivates them to make a change in their lives, but its escapism in its different forms. The three linked stories follow the life of Juliet, from when she's a young woman still studying who takes a train trip and meets a man, until she's an older woman, who lives three distinct lives in each of the stories. All three are ridiculously effective and utterly engrossing as Juliet's life takes a marked and unexpected turn that contains such sharp edges as only Munro can write them. But I think my favourite story among the eight would just have to be the penultimate one, "Tricks," for its climax actually made me pull the book to my chest and hug it tight, feeling every inch of the words as if they were a part of my own life, a pain I felt instead of the protagonist, Robin.
The towns are small, but nameless (for the most part), and the setting seems secondary to the inner life of each of the women. They are rich, rich, rich pieces of literature, so perfect in every way that I don't have a single constructive thing to say. For some reason, I always leave Munro on my shelves, I collect her books like they're pieces of china, bits and bobs to be admired in a long line of Can Lit adorning my bookshelves. And every time I actually pull one of the books off the shelf and spend some time with it, I chastise myself for never spending more time with them. They're not to be admired. They're to be enveloped and digested, and then put back on the shelf to age with you, for Runaway is a book never to be given away or loaned to a friend, it's just that good. Oh, sure, I'll recommend it, and then direct you all over to Amazon to get your own copy.
PHOTO IN CONTEXT: The first few lines of my favourite story, up close and personal.
READING CHALLENGES: As above, #2 in my Canadian Book Challenge for this year.
WHAT'S UP NEXT: Finishing Wally Lamb's mammoth (and ridiculously engrossing) novel on my Sony Reader for work.