Critical Overview

According to Aida Edemariam, writing in The Guardian in 2003, “For a long time, Alice Munro has been compared with Chekhov.” The most significant difference between Munro and Chekhov is that Munro focuses on the female experience. Tim Struthers points out, however, that Munro writes neither explicitly political nor feminist stories; instead, they are concerned with the struggle women face between rebellion and respectability—what Munro calls “the underbelly of relationships.”

Munro’s first collection of short stories, Dance of the Happy Shades (1968), and two subsequent collections won the prestigious Governor General’s Award in Canada. The New York Times’s review of Something I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You six years later (Busch, 1974) was cautious in its praise, however. Although it acknowledged that Munro’s stories are “well-made,” it also concluded they are merely “journeyman’s work...[and] no more than that.” As for “How I Met My Husband,” the critic complains that Munro betrays Edie by not allowing her to speak aloud the truth of her story at its conclusion, showing “an effort…for the narrative voice to be well-liked” and resulting in a tone that is “sycophantic.”

Many critics, however, have since disagreed with the review in The New York Times. George Woodcock (1986) praises the regionalism and simplicity of Munro’s work, explaining that “from her start she had her own view of life, largely as she had lived it herself, and her aim was to express it in a fiction distinguished by craftsmanship and clear vision.” He compares her work to “magic realist painters” because the “photographic element in her presentation of scenes and characters” lead to a deeper insight into who they are.

Although she does not in particular address “How I Met My Husband,” Helen Hoy (1980) argues that Munro uses paradox in the collection Something I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You, “the linking of incongruities in language or action” to “present the contradictions not only within emotions but also between emotion and behavior,” and that Munro offers “little attempt to reduce the inconsistency or explain why actions defy their motivations; the two conflicting realities are simply juxtaposed.” This understanding of the salience of paradox to Munro’s stories helps explain the sudden change in Edie’s view of waiting for Watters and the rather bizarre event of him barnstorming into town and changing her life in the way he does.