cover image Selected Stories

Selected Stories

Alice Munro. Alfred A. Knopf, $30 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-679-44627-9

A literature-lover's feast, this phenomenal collection of 28 short stories, selected from seven collections that span three decades, showcases Munro's mastery of the form, her vibrantly evocative prose and her undiluted, incisive vision of human nature. Almost without exception, the tales are set in western Canada, from the small-town and farm life of the Lake Huron region to the cultivated suburbs of Vancouver. Most take place in earlier decades, starting with the Depression era. One of Munro's great gifts is that she renders her settings both palpably specific--like one small town's ""maple trees whose roots have cracked and heaved the sidewalk and spread out like crocodiles into the bare yards""--and universally accessible. In the opening story, ""Walker Brothers Cowboy,"" a young girl accompanies her salesman father on his rounds through rural Canada in the 1930s. A surprise visit to one of his old girlfriends reveals his hidden, fun-loving past, and the girl poignantly weighs her mother's disappointments in marrying her father against this old girlfriend's in losing him. ""Material"" strikes a very different tone: the narrator, the ex-wife of a reasonably well-known contemporary writer and professor, reads a recent short story of his that, to her surprise, affects her deeply (even though she wryly deconstructs his author bio as filled with ""half-lies""). Having doubted that he would ever be a good writer, she is suddenly envious that he can take a lifetime of memories--mere ""useless baggage"" for her--and create something from them, while she sacrificed her writing ambitions to deal with the mundanities of life. Munro's stories are always trenchant, finely modulated and truly brilliant meditations on peoples' complexities and the emotions they contend with--sometimes ruefully, sometimes in pain, but most often with stoic dignity. 40,000 first printing. (Oct.)