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Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage by Alice Munro




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Dark & Bright

The nine stories in Alice Munro’s new collection, Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage, present this writer at her best, with the perspective of a Canadian woman now 70 years old. Her mastery of plot, efficiency of language, and precision of structure are all evident in each of these stories. While the subject matter is often gloomy and dark, including death, suicide, and lost love, Munro’s touch is light, and there’s an ease with which the reader can reflect on Munro and come away with a feeling of pleasure and brightness.

Here’s an excerpt from the title story:

“One more thing Johanna meant to do she had been putting off doing. She had to go into the dress shop called Milady’s and buy herself an outfit. She had never been inside that shop – when she had to buy anything, like socks, she went to Callaghans Mens Ladies and Childrens Wear. She had lots of clothes inherited from Mrs. Willets, things like this coat that would never wear out. And Sabitha – the girl she looked after, in Mr. McCauley’s house – was showered with costly hand-me-downs from her cousins.
In Milady’s window there were two mannequins wearing suits with quite short skirts and boxy jackets. One suit was a rusty-gold color and the other a soft deep green. Big gaudy paper maple leaves were scattered round the mannequins’ feet and pasted here and there on the window. At the time of year when most people’s concern was to rake leaves and burn them, here they were the chosen thing. A sign written in flowing black script was stuck diagonally across the glass. It said: Simple Elegance, the Mode for Fall.
She opened the door and went inside.
Right ahead of her, a full-length mirror showed her in Mrs. Willet’s high-quality but shapeless long coat, with a few inches of lumpy bare legs above the ankle socks.
They did that on purpose, of course. They set the mirror there so you could get a proper notion of your deficiencies, right away, and then – they hoped – you would jump to the conclusion that you had to buy something to alter the picture. Such a transparent trick that it would have made her walk out, if she had not come in determined, knowing what she had to get.”

All Munro’s descriptions, scenes and characters are clear, real and very well-written. This tenth collection of short stories provides some of the best writing Munro has ever done.

Steve Hopkins, December 26, 2001


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