The women in each of the tales in Alice Munro’s delicate, moving short story collection have one thing in common: sadness. They vary in their degrees of sadness – some are just wistful, others mournful, still others are in deep, deep despair. But make no mistake; there isn’t a cartwheel-turner in the bunch.
That’s because all of these stories deal with some sort of loss, from the titular first story about a wife who flees her volatile husband, fearing that he will expose a lie she’s told about their neighbor, to the three stories about a woman named Juliet, which track her journey from a young spinster schoolteacher to a widow whose daughter flees to join a cult.
Through it all, Munro has a gift for capturing such fragile emotions as grief, fear and even lust. “Soon,” the first of the Juliet stories, encompasses all three, with its tale of how a train trip leads Juliet to be both a witness to suicide and to her true love – who happens to be married to a dying woman. Munro beautifully shows us the guilt and shame Juliet feels, both about what she assumes is her role in the suicide of her seat partner on the train and about her near affair with that married man.
That story, at least, has a happy ending, or as happy as it could be, considering what we learn about the outcome of Juliet’s story. These three tales are the best example of the excellent way that Munro writes about sorrow and longing – her characters feel pain, but it’s soon dulled by the routine activities of daily life. We suffer, she says, but life goes on.
Never is that more clear than in the first story, when that runaway wife returns to her husband and slowly realizes the harrowing, secret revenge he’s taken on her for her actions. Her horror at what she’s learned lingers, but it becomes buried with time.
This is a truly fine collection which will move and stun. Sadness was never such a pleasure to behold.