Monday, April 09, 2007

Alice Munro – ‘Runaway’

When is a short story not a short story? When it occupies 110 pages and spans several generations? Three of the stories here join up and do this, though possibly they would work individually too. There’s no reason at all why this book shouldn’t contain a novella, of course, I’m just looking to get a handle on it. Speaking vaguely, I enjoyed lots of bits of Runaway, but having just finished reading it I don’t know what it was getting at, what it adds up to. Perhaps an interpretation of the one-word titles might help:

  • Runaway is obvious, Carla runs away from her husband Clark; their pet goat Flora does a parallel disappearing trick. There are more runnings away in the stories which follow, most obviously in Silence and Passion.
  • Chance refers to a meeting on a train which leads to a relationship.
  • Soon means the proximity of death, and the nagging desire to see family members who live far away.
  • Silence reflects what happens when this nagging desire goes unfulfilled.
  • Passion contrasts a sensible love affair with some reckless behaviour which, whilst it spoils everything, is truer to the natures involved.
  • Trespasses invokes a fairly horrific emotional blow dealt by a family to a single woman.
  • Tricks marvels at the fairy tales people will weave to keep themselves happy, and the slender margins which can thwart them. This was my favourite story.
  • Powers are psychic powers. While they seem to have some currency in 1927, when the story begins, they have been completely devalued by the 1970s.

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