In the nine breathtaking stories that make up her celebrated tenth collection, Alice Munro achieves new heights, creating narratives that loop and swerve like memory, and conjuring up characters as thorny and contradictory as people we know ourselves.
A tough-minded housekeeper jettisons the habits of a lifetime because of a teenager’s practical joke. A college student visiting her brassy, unconventional aunt stumbles on an astonishing secret and its meaning in her own life. An incorrigible philanderer responds with unexpected grace to his wife’s nursing-home romance. Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage is Munro at her best, tirelessly observant, serenely free of illusion, deeply and gloriously humane.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
A writer of Munro's ilk hardly needs a hook like the intriguing title of her 10th collection to pull readers into her orbit. Serving as a teasing introduction to these nine brilliantly executed tales, the range of mentioned relationships merely suggests a few of the nuances of human behavior that Munro evokes with the skill of a psychological magician. Johanna Parry, the protagonist of the title story, stands alone among her fictional sisters in achieving her goal by force of will. A rough, uneducated country girl, blatantly plain ("her teeth were crowded into the front of her mouth as if they were ready for an argument"), she seems doomed to heartbreak because of a teenager's trick, but the bracingly ironic denouement turns the reader's dire expectations into glee. The women in the other stories generally cannot control their fate. Having finally been reunited with the soul mate of her youth, the narrator of "Nettles" discovers that apparently benevolent fate can be cruel. In a similar moment of perception that signals the end of hope, Lorna in "Post and Beam" realizes that she is condemned to a life of submission to her overbearing, supercilious husband; ironically, her frowsy country cousin envies Lorna's luck in escaping their common origin. In nearly every story, there's a contrast between the behavior and expectations of country people and those who have made it to Toronto or Vancouver. Regardless of situation, however, the basics of survival are endured in stoic sorrow. Only the institutionalized wife of a philanderer in "The Bear Came Over the Mountain" manages to outwit her husband, and she has to lose her sanity to do it. All of the stories share Munro's characteristic style, looping gracefully from the present to the past, interpolating vignettes that seem extraneous and bringing the strands together in a deceptively gentle windup whose impact takes the breath away. Munro has few peers in her understanding of the bargains women make with life and the measureless price they pay. (Nov.)Forecast: Munro's collections are true modern classics, as the 75,000 first printing of her latest attests. Expect vigorous sales.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
-- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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October 06, 2002
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Excerpt from Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage by Alice Munro
Years ago, before the trains stopped running on so many of the branch lines, a woman with a high, freckled forehead and a frizz of reddish hair came into the railway station and inquired about shipping furniture.
The station agent often tried a little teasing with women, especially the plain ones who seemed to appreciate it.
"Furniture?" he said, as if nobody had ever had such an idea before. "Well. Now. What kind of furniture are we talking about?"
A dining-room table and six chairs. A full bedroom suite, a sofa, a coffee table, end tables, a floor lamp. Also a china cabinet and a buffet.
"Whoa there. You mean a houseful."
"It shouldn't count as that much," she said. "There's no kitchen things and only enough for one bedroom."
Her teeth were crowded to the front of her mouth as if they were ready for an argument.
"You'll be needing the truck," he said.
"No. I want to send it on the train. It's going out west, to Saskatchewan."
She spoke to him in a loud voice as if he was deaf or stupid, and there was something wrong with the way she pronounced her words. An accent. He thought of Dutch--the Dutch were moving in around here--but she didn't have the heft of the Dutch women or the nice pink skin or the fair hair. She might have been under forty, but what did it matter? No beauty queen, ever.
He turned all business.
"First you'll need the truck to get it to here from wherever you got it. And we better see if it's a place in Saskatchewan where the train goes through. Otherways you'd have to arrange to get it picked up, say, in Regina."
"It's Gdynia," she said. "The train goes through."
He took down a greasy-covered directory that was hanging from a nail and asked how she would spell that. She helped herself to the pencil that was also on a string and wrote on a piece of paper from her purse: G D Y N I A.
"What kind of nationality would that be?"
She said she didn't know.
He took back the pencil to follow from line to line.
"A lot of places out there it's all Czechs or Hungarians or Ukrainians," he said. It came to him as he said this that she might be one of those. But so what, he was only stating a fact.
"Here it is, all right, it's on the line."
"Yes," she said. "I want to ship it Friday--can you do that?"
"We can ship it, but I can't promise what day it'll get there," he said. "It all depends on the priorities. Somebody going to be on the lookout for it when it comes in?"
"It's a mixed train Friday, two-eighteen p.m. Truck picks it up Friday morning. You live here in town?"
She nodded, writing down the address. 106 Exhibition Road.
It was only recently that the houses in town had been numbered, and he couldn't picture the place, though he knew where Exhibition Road was. If she'd said the name McCauley at that time he might have taken more of an interest, and things might have turned out differently. There were new houses out there, built since the war, though they were called "wartime houses." He supposed it must be one of those.
"Pay when you ship," he told her.
"Also, I want a ticket for myself on the same train. Friday afternoon."
"Going same place?"
"You can travel on the same train to Toronto, but then you have to wait for the Transcontinental, goes out ten-thirty at night. You want sleeper or coach? Sleeper you get a berth, coach you sit up in the day car."
She said she would sit up.
"Wait in Sudbury for the Montreal train, but you won't get off there, they'll just shunt you around and hitch on the Montreal cars. Then on to Port Arthur and then to Kenora. You don't get off till Regina, and there you have to get off and catch the branch-line train."
She nodded as if he should just get on and give her the ticket.
Slowing down, he said, "But I won't promise your furniture'll arrive when you do, I wouldn't think it would get in till a day or two after. It's all the priorities. Somebody coming to meet you?"
"Good. Because it won't likely be much of a station. Towns out there, they're not like here. They're mostly pretty rudimentary affairs."
She paid for the passenger ticket now, from a roll of bills in a cloth bag in her purse. Like an old lady. She counted her change, too. But not the way an old lady would count it--she held it in her hand and flicked her eyes over it, but you could tell she didn't miss a penny. Then she turned away rudely, without a good-bye.
"See you Friday," he called out.
She wore a long, drab coat on this warm September day, also a pair of clunky laced-up shoes, and ankle socks.
He was getting a coffee out of his thermos when she came back and rapped on the wicket.
"The furniture I'm sending," she said. "It's all good furniture, it's like new. I wouldn't want it to get scratched or banged up or in any way damaged. I don't want it to smell like livestock, either."