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.)