Authors: Alice Munro
“A wonderful sampling of vintage Munro.… For those who have never read her, there is no better place to begin. And for those long familiar with her writing, there remain surprises and rediscoveries.”
—San Francisco Chronicle
“She seeks to evoke the mysteries of real life and she succeeds brilliantly.”
Los Angeles Times
“This season’s literary sensation … told with such perfect pitch that the results are stunning.”
“Meaty stories about love, marriage, discontent, divorce, betrayal, impulsive passion, second thoughts, deaths, even murder—stories with plenty of drama and surprise as well as reflection and meditation.”
—Wall Street Journal
“[Her fans’] gratitude for what she’s given them is exceeded only by their craving for what might come next. That sounds greedy, but when a writer this great just keeps getting better, what else can you do?”
“[Munro’s stories] are made vivid with innumerable details of time and place. All her characters, even the minor ones, are given histories. And in the end we are witness to eruptions of emotional earthquakes, large and small.”
“An entire world caught in the amber of memory. [The stories] have a quality of folk art about them—its patient amplitude, sly humor, and hard materiality.”
“Deeply imagined, almost awesome.… Munro’s sheer aptness, her precision of psychology and language, becomes the chief beauty of her work.”
—Washington Post Book World
“A rare pleasure … rich and complex … an excellent one-volume introduction to her work.”
—Boston Book Review
“Luminous.… Munro’s stories ride on tone and feeling: Merely summarizing one is like describing a villa by holding up its doorbell.”
“The collection of the year. ‘Here,’ as Dryden said of Chaucer, ‘is God’s plenty.’ ”
FIRST VINTAGE CONTEMPORARIES EDITION, NOVEMBER 1997
1996, 1997 by Alice Munro
All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Published in the United States by Vintage Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York. Originally published in hardcover in slightly different form in the United States by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., New York, and in Canada by McClelland & Stewart, Inc., Toronto, in 1996.
The stories in this collection were originally published in the following works:
Dance of the Happy Shades
, copyright © 1968 by Alice Munro
(The Ryerson Press, Toronto).
Something I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You
, copyright © 1974 by
Alice Munro (McGraw-Hill, Inc., New York).
The Beggar Maid
, copyright © 1977, 1978 by Alice Munro (Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., New York).
The Moons of Jupiter
, copyright © 1977, 1979, 1980, 1981, 1982 by Alice Munro
(Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., New York).
The Progress of Love
, copyright © 1985, 1986 by Alice Munro (Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., New York).
Friend of My Youth
, copyright © 1990 by Alice Munro (Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., New York).
, copyright © 1994 by Alice Munro (Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., New York).
The Library of Congress has cataloged the Knopf edition as follows:
[Short stories. Selections]
Selected stories / Alice Munro. — 1st ed.
Random House Web address:
My essential support and
friend for twenty years
Like many writers, I get letters from people who would like some brass-tacks information. Should I consider writing as my career? some ask. How much yearly income can I expect as a writer? How much education should a writer have? Is it necessary to work on a computer? Have an agent? Associate with other writers?
Some clarifying statements about my work are requested by others. What do you consider to be your basic themes? Your major strengths/weaknesses? Why do you choose to write short stories instead of novels? Do you write from a feminist perspective, and if not, why not? How do you feel that you contribute to the view of Canada held by a reader inside/outside the country? How has your fiction grown or progressed during your career? Do you prefer to write about relationships between people rather than important events, and if so, why? Do you prefer to write about rural and small-town people rather than sophisticated people, and if so, why? Are you a regional writer?
All this is rather flattering because it assumes that I am a person of brisk intelligence, exercising steady control on a number of fronts. I make advantageous judgments concerning computers and themes, I chart a course which is called a career and expect to make progress in it. I know what I am up to. Short stories, yes. Novels, no. I accept that rural folk are never sophisticated and sophisticates are never rural, and I make my choice. Also I keep an eye on feminism and Canada and try to figure out my duty to both.
This isn’t exactly the kind of writer I’d like to be, but I wouldn’t mind being a little more that way. In control, and pretty certain about what is going on, when I sit down with a pen and scribbler to do a first draft. Of course, if I was that kind of writer I might not know what a scribbler was, and I would pick up a pen only to write checks and autographs.
I am forced, in writing this introduction, to give the whole matter some thought, and I might as well start by answering a question.
I did not “choose” to write short stories. I hoped to write novels. When you are responsible for running a house and taking care of small children, particularly in the days before disposable diapers or ubiquitous automatic washing machines, it’s hard to arrange for large chunks of time. A child’s illness, relatives coming to stay, a pileup of unavoidable household jobs, can swallow a work-in-progress as surely as a power failure used to destroy a piece of work in the computer. You’re better to stick with something you can keep in mind and hope to do in a few weeks, or a couple of months at most. I know that there are lots of women who have written novels in the midst of domestic challenges, just as there are men (and women) who have written them after coming home at night from exhausting jobs. That’s why I thought I could do it too, but I couldn’t. I took to writing in frantic spurts, juggling my life around until I could get a story done, then catching up on other responsibilities. So I got into the habit of writing short stories.
In later years my short stories haven’t been so short. They’ve grown longer, and in a way more disjointed and demanding and peculiar. I didn’t choose for that to happen, either. The only choice I make is to write about what interests me in a way that interests me, that gives me pleasure. It may not look like pleasure, because the difficulties can make me morose and distracted, but that’s what it is—the pleasure of telling the story I mean to tell as wholly as I can tell it, of finding out in fact what that story is, by working around the different ways of telling it.
Generally speaking, these don’t seem to be very straightforward ways. But I think they’re necessary.
The reason I write so often about the country to the east of Lake Huron is just that I love it. It means something to me that no other country can—no matter how important historically that other country may be, how “beautiful,” how lively and interesting. I am intoxicated by this particular landscape, by the almost flat fields, the swamps, the hardwood bush lots, by the continental climate with its extravagant winters. I am at home with the brick houses, the falling-down barns, the occasional farms that have swimming pools and airplanes, the trailer parks, burdensome old churches, Wal-Mart, and Canadian Tire. I speak the language.
When I write about something happening in this setting, I don’t think that I’m choosing to be confined. Quite the opposite. I don’t think I’m writing just
this life. I hope to be writing about and
When I first thought about what I would write, I set my stories—they were novels then—in special countries derived from fiction and then obsessively organized and colored by my imagination. When I was eleven or twelve I had worked out—mostly in my walks to and from school—an adventure-narrative inspired mostly by
The Last of the Mohicans
, and by the true story of the fourteen-year-old heroine Madeleine de Verchères, who held her family farm against the Iroquois near Montreal in 1692. The devouring woods, the bears, and the Indians, the perilous fields outside the palisades. All to be pushed aside, obliterated—so that I’ve only now retrieved it—when a couple of years later I came across
. Its long shadow fell over all the remaining years of my adolescence, and I carried in my head a whole demonic tragedy in which people were riven by love, blasted by curses, and died young, all in a landscape of windy moors inserted into Huron County. I didn’t give up on this novel until I went to college. But during the time I carried it, there was a disturbance—something happened that had to do with writing, but in a way I could not understand.
I was standing at a window in the library in the Town Hall. (Our town was the only one in the county that had refused a Carnegie Library, not wishing to have to maintain such a building and forgo the taxes on the property.) I was around fifteen years old. I had finished picking out my books. I was just at the window, waiting. Perhaps I was waiting for a friend, or for a ride home—I lived a mile or so west of town.
Snow was falling straight down, in the gentle meditative way that it often seemed to fall in town, between the buildings. That didn’t mean that once I left the shelter of town, on my westward walk home, I would not be facing into a whirlwind of snow whipped off the tops of the drifts, or a primal blast, coming across Lake Huron and Lake Michigan right out of the freezing heart of the continent.
Snow falling straight down. The window looked out on the town weigh-scales and a high board fence beyond. A corner of the Town Armouries came into view. Like all armouries, it was a thick-walled, scowling building of red brick.