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Alice Munro: five classic short stories

By AFP

May 14, 2024 10:35 PM


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Nobel-winning Canadian writer Alice Munro was best known as a master of the short story. Here are five from her celebrated trove:

 'Boys and Girls' (1964)

In one of her earliest stories, Munro delved into what would become a signature theme: the complex, often fraught transition to adulthood.

Set on a fox farm and told from the point of view of a young girl, "Boys and Girls" explores gender conventions in 1940s small-town Ontario -- Munro's birthplace and home, and the setting for much of her writing.

The story was included in her first book "Dance of the Happy Shades" (1968).

 'Royal Beatings' (1977) 

This story is about daily family violence in a rural Canadian town begins with stepmother Flo's threat to administer a "royal beating" to her fiery teenaged stepdaughter, Rose.

The girl's imagination is sparked by the term, and she imagines chariots, horses and kings, but she discovers a far more brutal reality when her father beats her with his belt.

Munro would delve deeper into the world of Flo and Rose in "Who Do You Think You Are?" (1978), a collection of interlinked stories about the two women that was nominated for the Booker Prize.

 'The Progress of Love' (1985) 

Reminiscing about growing up, the 30-something real-estate agent Euphemia ponders her parents' dysfunctional marriage and her decision to run away from home and reject all they stood for.

Love in the course of the story does not progress so much as it congeals and becomes intermingled with recrimination, and through Euphemia's conflicted feelings, Munro's explores how emotions evolve.

The characters "so resemble ourselves that reading about them, at times, is emotionally risky," wrote Joyce Carol Oates in the New York Times in 1986.

 'The Bear Came Over the Mountain' (1999) -

Sadness pervades this story about a man who loses his wife to Alzheimer's, with Munro unflinching observation of the devastating details of the disease as it erodes memory, language and personality.

It was adapted for the screen in 2006 as "Away from Her" by Canadian compatriot Sarah Polley and with Julie Christie as the ill-fated wife, earning two Oscar nominations including best actress.

 'Corrie' (2010) 

An expertly rendered central deception in this story dupes reader and protagonist alike, showcasing Munro's careful and intricate weaving of storylines in deceptively banal settings.

Corrie, a young wealthy woman who seems destined for spinsterhood, embarks on a years-long affair with an architect, Howard.

When he tells her a mutual acquaintance has discovered their secret and is blackmailing them, Corrie agrees to pay a monthly stipend to keep the potential snitch quiet.

But, years later, she discovers this was a lie and Howard had been pocketing the money all along.

Munro, who liked to revisit and tweak her stories even years later, changed the ending for the version of "Corrie" that appeared in her collection "Dear Life" published in 2012.

For Munro, her stories "cause second thoughts," said Margaret Atwood on The New Yorker Fiction podcast in 2019, "she liked rethinking things and wondering whether she got it right the first time".


AFP


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