Even more than Munro’s earlier collections, Friend of My Youth stresses the author’s view that the world is not governed by faith or reason, either human or divine. Instead, life is governed by chance or fate.
It is not that Munro’s characters avoid seeking some direction for their lives. Indeed, their passionate interest in personal history is based on the belief that by looking at choices made in the past, they can learn to make wiser decisions in the future. This hope is expressed in the title of one of the stories in Friend of My Youth, “Differently.” In order to reexamine some of her actions, a middle-aged woman called Georgia goes back to her old neighborhood and visits a man named Raymond, who, along with his wife and her husband, had been a member of a close-knit group fifteen years earlier. The story is laden with speculations: What if Georgia had been faithful to her husband? What if she had remained in that house, in that town? What if she had forgiven Raymond’s dead wife, once her best friend, for appropriating her lover? A typical Munro protagonist, Georgia arrives at two contradictory answers to her questions. On one hand, given her own nature, she thinks, she could never have acted in any other way; on the other hand, she says to Raymond that if people were convinced that someday they would die, they would act “differently.” Then the narrator, probably speaking for Munro, rejects her own speculation about free will, calling the second answer “lame” and intended “only as a joke.”
Another way in which the choices of human beings are limited is the subject of “Oh, What Avails,” the story of a brother and a sister who have taken very different directions in life. The brother has remained in the small town where they grew up, living a chaste and frugal life; the sister moved to Ottawa, married,...
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