Open Secrets Analysis
by Alice Munro

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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.

Open Secrets

(Literary Masterpieces, Critical Compilation)

In her eighth book, Canadian author Alice Munro revisits the physical and emotional landscapes that have become closely identified with her work. Nearly all these stories take place in southeastern Ontario, in or near the small town of Carstairs or its larger neighbor Walley, a port on Lake Huron. Her characters are ordinary people with uncertain lives, their stories connected by a common setting and spanning a period from the mid-nineteenth to the late twentieth century.

Munro’s early work consists primarily of first-person, coming-of-age stories, well crafted and powerful. In later work she has switched to a more traditional omniscient voice, except for the multiple point of view found here in “A Wilderness Station,” which is written in epistolary form. Her writing has become denser, layered, employing more sophisticated techniques. Events frequently appear out of chronological order as Munro shifts seamlessly between past and present. She has indicated that such shifts are deliberate: “I want to write the story that will zero in and give you intense, but not connected, moments of experience. I guess that’s the way I see life.”

The real tour de force of this collection is “The Albanian Virgin,” a story that covers some forty years and only briefly involves Ontario, alternating mostly between Albania and British Columbia. 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. The story line 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...

(The entire section is 2,095 words.)