OPEN SECRETS (1994) was the seventh collection of short stories published by Alice Munro, her eighth, if one does not classify LIVES OF GIRLS AND WOMEN (1971) as a novel. While all the works in SELECTED STORIES were published previously, this volume, with its chronological organization, enables one to trace the development of a writer who for three decades has been recognized as one of the finest on the contemporary scene.
Over this period, Munro’s stories have altered primarily in setting and focus. In the 1960’s, she described life in rural Canada, often in southwestern Ontario, where she spent her childhood. In later years, however, the action takes place in urban centers, such as Vancouver, British Columbia, the setting of “Material,” or even abroad, as in “The Albanian Virgin.”
Munro’s focus has also altered. At first she told stories of initiation from the vantage point of a child or a young girl, but she soon turned to adult life, with its problems in male-female relationships, its concern about life’s limitations and its precariousness, and the wrenching realization of human isolation. However, some elements remain constant in Munro’s work. One is the author’s habit of telling her stories from a feminine vantage point. Another is her inclusiveness. Like a small town gossip, Munro indulges in what seem to be extraneous details, withholding their significance until the very end of a story. Moreover, every story in this extensive collection holds its own surprise. They are alike only in their subtlety, their power, and the technical dexterity they exhibit. This consistent high quality makes Munro’s SELECTED STORIES an especially valuable publication.
Sources for Further Study
Booklist. XCII, August, 1996, p. 1856.
Boston Globe. November 3, 1996, p. D15.
Library Journal. CXXI, October 1, 1996, p. 130.
Los Angeles Times Book Review. October 13, 1996, p. 3.
The New York Times Book Review. CI, October 27, 1996, p. 11.
Newsweek. CXXVIII, October 21, 1996, p. 88.
Publishers Weekly. CCXLIII, August 12, 1996, p. 61.
The Times Literary Supplement. November 8, 1996, p. 26.
The Wall Street Journal. October 25, 1996, p. A12.
The Washington Post Book World. XXVI, November 10, 1996, p. 1.
Although all of the short stories in this volume have been published previously, this collection is useful for several reasons. Obviously, the chronological arrangement of Selected Stories makes it easy for one to trace the author’s development from the 1960’s, when she first began to be recognized, to the 1990’s, when most critics rank her with the best contemporary writers. Moreover, this collection shows why Alice Munro has been highly admired over such a long period. Every story, even the earliest, bears evidence of her insight, her sensitivity to milieu, and her meticulous craft.
The publication of Selected Stories is of special significance because Munro is one of the few writers whose reputation has been built almost entirely on short fiction. Open Secrets (1994), the book which preceded Selected Stories, was Munro’s seventh collection of short stories. Her only book-length work in another genre is the novel Lives of Girls and Women (1971), which, many argue, is simply a series of interrelated short stories. Indeed, it is difficult to see much difference between Lives of Girls and Women and the short-story collection Who Do You Think You Are? (1978), which was published in the United States as The Beggar Maid: Stories of Flo and Rose (1979). Both books are made up of separate chapters, each of which has a beginning, a middle, and an end, just like a conventional short story, and in both cases, the primary source of unity is the presence of a single protagonist throughout the volume. Even if one chooses to think of Lives of Girls and Women as a novel, however, the fact remains that Alice Munro will be remembered almost entirely for her short fiction.
Naturally, over Munro’s long career, there have been some changes. In her earlier stories, Munro...
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