Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Friend of My Youth is a collection of ten short stories in which the protagonists examine their own lives and the lives of others in the hope of finding some certainty or, failing that, some new perception. All the stories either are set in Canada, often in Alice Munro’s native Ontario, or involve Canadian characters. In all but one of them, the point of view is that of a woman, and even in “Oranges and Apples,” which is told through the eyes of Murray Ziegler, the central focus of the narrative is Murray’s relationships with his wife and with the friend who threatens their marriage. Since Munro’s interest is in relationships and choices, her plots involve male characters as well as females. Munro clearly feels most comfortable, however, using women as her observers. Perhaps her approach is best summarized at the end of “Hold Me Fast, Don’t Let Me Pass,” when Hazel Curtis makes a tentative statement about what seems to make women happy, then leaves the same question unanswered as far as men are concerned, certain only that “it must be something quite different.”

In a Munro short story, the present is never detached from the past. In fact, most of the stories in this collection involve an examination of the past, which sometimes comes about, as in “Wigtime,” as the result of a chance encounter with an old friend, sometimes, as in “Oh, What Avails” or “Differently,” as a reaction to death, and even, in “Hold Me...

(The entire section is 511 words.)

Friend of My Youth Context

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Alice Munro has always been particularly interested in the women of her own generation, who were reared under a patriarchal system that prescribed their roles and then suddenly found themselves in the midst of a feminist revolution that enabled and even urged them to launch out on their own. In “Meneseteung,” Munro shows her sympathy for the talented women of past eras who, like the woman poet in that story, often had to choose between life and art; in other stories—for example, “Oh, What Avails,” “Differently,” and “Five Points”—she writes about contemporary women who defy convention in order to fulfill their own needs.

Because Munro is uncomfortable with simplistic thinking, however, she cannot view feminism as a panacea for women’s problems. When her characters take advantage of their new sexual freedom, they may find temporary release, but the outcome is, though not guilt, a rueful disappointment. For example, “Five Points” ends with the protagonist’s discovery that adultery can be as dull and demanding as marriage.

Where Munro stands most surely with feminists is in her belief that women are sustained by their relationships with other women. When a friendship fails, as in “Differently,” both women feel a terrible sense of loss; when one is reestablished, as in “Wigtime,” the result is at least a partial happiness. Even though they have competed for the same man, even though they undoubtedly have mixed...

(The entire section is 433 words.)

Friend of My Youth Bibliography

(Literary Masterpieces, Critical Compilation)

Booklist. LXXXVI, February 1, 1990, p.1049. A review of Friend of My Youth.

Houston, Pam. “A Hopeful Sign: The Making of Metonymic Meaning in Munro’s ‘Meneseteung.’ ” Kenyon Review 14 (Fall, 1992): 79-92. A feminist approach to Munro’s story, arguing that Almeda Roth exemplifies the difference between women’s thought patterns and men’s. The “metonymic” universe may be “frightening,” but it offers unlimited creative possibilities.

Keith, W. J. A Sense of Style: Studies in the Art of Fiction in English-Speaking Canada. Toronto: ECW Press, 1989. A thoughtful overview of Munro’s fiction, pointing out marked changes in subject, theme, and technique in the later works. The author’s comments are clearly applicable to Friend of My Youth.

Library Journal. CXV, March 15, 1990, p.115. A review of Friend of My Youth.

Los Angeles Times Book Review. April 1, 1990, p.4. A review of Friend of My Youth.

Mayberry, Katherine J. “ ‘Every Last thing . . . Everlasting’: Alice Munro and the Limits of Narrative.” Studies in Short Fiction 29 (Fall, 1992): 531-541. Sees the “uneasy relationship between language and experience” as one of Munro’s primary themes. Mayberry argues that in all of her works, including Friend of My Youth, Munro reveals how words themselves modify past experience and thus prevent her narrators from...

(The entire section is 612 words.)