This collection of short stories by Alice Munro features women dealing with difficult matters of the heart as they face sickness, death, loneliness, infidelity, broken hearts, and renewed love. The stories are set in Munro’s native Ontario, Canada. I’ll be up front with you: this book will leave you with an insatiable hunger for some lighthearted entertainment. It’s probably best to read it story by story with small breaks in between. The plots are all too real. Munro seemed to focus on the most private aspects, good or bad but mostly bad, of her characters’ psyches as they react to life’s valleys.
My two favorite stories were “Comfort” and “Queenie.” “Comfort” is about a woman, Nina, whose husband took his own life after battling MS. Her husband, a high school teacher, had fought to keep Creationism out of the school curriculum. After his death, Nina tries to keep his principles alive, but it comes at a significant personal cost. I liked “Queenie” because the characters were around my age. Queenie is an 18 year old who marries a grumpy old man for whom she was a caretaker before his first wife passed away. Her once-close stepsister follows her to Toronto to keep an eye on her and try to understand why Queenie made such a terrible decision.
Despite its heavy-handedness, what makes this book great is how well Munro plays out her characters’ thoughts and emotions. She is extremely detailed in this aspect. You can probably relate to (at least one of) the characters because what they are going through is real, and no thought or emotion is hidden. Their reactions are irrational and surprising at times, and the stories can be a bit anticlimactic, but they are not beyond the scope of reality, and that is something I can appreciate.