Carried Away – Alice Munro

A book of short stories proved to be an interesting choice for our book group, especially when it is a densely printed book of not such short, short stories. Munro’s collection apparently covers a twenty five year period, and certainly there is a lot of variety within this book.

We soon decided that it was going to be impossible to expect everyone to read all of the stories in what proved to be a three week gap since the last meeting. I found, and I was not alone, that each story was too dense, too rich to be rushed through, and it was only really possible to read one a day / a sitting.

We each therefore tackled four stories, and while there was an overlap in the ones chosen, such as the first one, Royal Beatings, there was enough variety and subject matter in the stories chosen to be interesting. We ranged over the choice of title (appropriate or not) and the endings (satisfactory or otherwise). We wondered about the domestic violence of Royal Beatings, but also the frustration inherent in the life of women in the poverty of the times. We felt that some endings did not tie up all the themes and subjects started in the stories, and we wondered why some episodes had been included at all. While some stories seemed fairly delicately written, such as The Bear Went Over the Mountain, it had a sordid underlining issue of infidelity.  Some stories were linked by characters or settings, while others introduced an entire, Canadian, world view of its own. We were confused by the ending of Carried Away, as we admitted we really could not decide what was happening. Some motifs also reappeared, such as the job in a bookshop changing a life.

Overall an interesting experiment for discussion, which proved detailed and challenging. I went on to read “The Children Stay” in “That Glimpse of Truth”, a collection of short stories edited by David Miller. (Incidentally, a useful collection of short stories by an excellent selection of authors). This is a delicately written of a woman whose peaceful family life is threatened by her surprise casting in an amateur play. It has an interesting view of relationships, which is such a dominant theme in Munro’s stories. The children become touchingly real, and the central character becomes realistically confused about her life. Munro’s stories are rich and challenging, and remain surprisingly relevant even if actually depicting an early twentieth century period. I think that this is a book to own, as it will take some time to read and appreciate this ‘greatest hits’ volume.