Open Secrets

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In these eight stories, Canadian author Alice Munro revisits the physical and emotional landscapes that have become closely identified with her work. Nearly all of these stories take place in southeastern Ontario, near Lake Huron. Her characters are ordinary people with uncertain lives, connected by a common setting.

The real tour de force of this collection is “The Albanian Virgin,” which spans some forty years and only briefly involves Ontario. The chief figure is Canadian-born Charlotte, who is kidnapped in the 1920’s by a primitive Albanian tribe, the Ghegs, but returns to tell her story. A parallel figure is Claire, owner of a bookstore in 1960’s Victoria, British Colombia. The storyline exists on three levels—Charlotte’s life as a captive of the Ghegs, Charlotte’s story told years later to Claire in Victoria, and Claire’s own confused tale of marital unhappiness and escape.

In other selections, a self-reliant farm woman is convinced by her friends to submit to a traditional marriage, although she is obviously reluctant. Ironically, she flourishes, but a flirtatious friend, who has eagerly married in hope of “a real life,” withers in her joyless union. Another tale describes survival in the nineteenth century Canadian bush, where brutality festers beneath the surface of daily life. The final story examines child abuse, the deception of appearances, and violence that feeds upon itself.

Most of these stories carry within them a glimmer of evil submerged in the ordinary. Although Munro is not a writer of horror fiction in the usual sense, though her stories ring absolutely true, the darkness within them is enough to chill the bones.

Sources for Further Study

Los Angeles Times Book Review. October 30, 1994, p. 2.

The Nation. CCLIX, November 28, 1994, p. 665.

The New York Review of Books. XLI, December 22, 1994, p. 59.

The New York Times Book Review. XCIX, September 11, 1994, p. 1.

Newsweek. CXXIV, September 26, 1994, p. 63.

Publishers Weekly. CCXLI, August 1, 1994, p. 72.

Time. CXLIV, October 3, 1994, p. 82.

The Times Literary Supplement. October 14, 1994, p. 24.

The Wall Street Journal. September 9, 1994, p. A12.

The Washington Post Book World. XXIV, September 18, 1994, p. 2.