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Critical Overview

(Short Stories for Students)

When Friend of My Youth was published in 1990, it was a critical success. As Judith Timson notes in her 1990 essay on the work, it ‘‘was an instant literary event not only in Canada but also in the United States, where the writer and her work have garnered rave reviews.’’ Many of these rave reviews, including those that Munro earned for Friend of My Youth, are due to Munro’s unconventional style. Anne Boston, in her 1990 review of the collection for New Statesmen and Society, remarks on Munro’s ‘‘fine disregard for convention,’’ saying that the author ‘‘spins her narratives decades back and forwards, gathering lifetimes and whole groups of characters into the space of 20 pages.’’ Specifically, Boston notes that the use of a present-day narrator to tell a historical story gives ‘‘Meneseteung’’ ‘‘added depth and distance.’’

Besides the temporal span of her works, critics also cite Munro’s ability to combine fictional and realistic elements in unique patterns. In a 1986 essay about Munro’s fiction for Queen’s Quarterly, George Woodcock calls this ‘‘a tension between autobiography and invention which she manipulates so superbly that both elements are used to the full and in the process enrich each other.’’ Some critics note that the realistic elements of Munro’s fiction take on near photographic qualities. ‘‘Details of place are strikingly, almost photographically evoked,’’ Carol Shields says in her 1991 review of Friend of My Youth for London Review of Books. Likewise, Woodcock says, ‘‘The photographic element in her presentation of scenes and characters as visualizable images is an essential factor in her writing.’’

Besides favoring Munro’s use of photographic descriptions, critics also praise her unconventional use of realistic elements such as the news clippings she employs in ‘‘Meneseteung.’’ ‘‘Munro has gone a long way toward reshaping the short story for her purposes, or rather unshaping it,’’ Shields says. She references Munro’s use of ‘‘newspaper articles, old letters, and, very often, seemingly random anecdotes beaded on a thin string of narrative.’’ Timson speaks about the effect of these added elements, especially in a work like ‘‘Meneseteung.’’ ‘‘It is a tricky work because parts of it, including excerpts from Roth’s book of poetry and her obituary, suggest that she was a real person, brought to life from some dusty newspaper clippings.’’ But as Timson notes, the entire story—clippings, poetry, and all— was fabricated by Munro.

Because Munro tends to take her reader back and forth through time and uses realistic elements in much of her fiction, disorienting the reader and sabotaging the flow of her stories, some critics refer to her works as plotless, though not in a bad way. In her 1986 entry on Munro for Dictionary of...

(The entire section is 677 words.)