About the Book
Alice Munro’s territory is the farms and semi-rural towns of south-western Ontario. In these dazzling stories she deals with the self-discovery of adolescence, the joys and pains of love and the despair and guilt of those caught in a narrow existence. And in sensitively exploring the lives of ordinary men and women, she makes us aware of the universal nature of their fears, sorrows and aspirations.
Format: eBook, paperback (240 pp.) Publisher: Vintage Digital
Published: 21st Oct 2013 [first pub. 1968] Genre: Fiction, Short Stories
Find Dance of the Happy Shades on Goodreads
This is the second collection of short stories by Alice Munro I’ve read. The first – Runaway (click on title to read my review) – I described as ‘bleak’. But having read this collection, which was actually the first she ever published, I think I was too harsh. Instead, I think I should have said ‘unflinching in her observation’. I’m going to pick out three stories that I think illustrate both Munro’s gift for observation and her ability to reveal the petty snobberies of small town life.
In ‘Walker Brothers Cowboy’, Munro brilliantly conjures up the atmosphere of the small town where the narrator lives.
‘Then my father and I walk gradually down a long shabby, sort of street, with Silverwoods Ice Cream signs standing on the sidewalk, outside tiny, lighted stores…The street is shaded, in some places, by maple trees whose roots have cracked and heaved the sidewalk and spread out like crocodiles into the bare yards. People are sitting out, men in shirt-sleeves and undershirts and women in aprons – not people we know but if anybody looks ready to nod and say, “Warm night”, my father will nod too and say something the same.’
In ‘Shining Houses’, the residents of a new estate of ‘new, white and shining houses’ unite against the occupant of an old house who they believe is bringing down the value of their homes. Munro describes how the male residents of the new houses work on their properties at the weekends.
‘They worked with competitive violence and energy, all this being new to them; they were not men who made their livings by physical work. All day Saturday and Sunday they worked like this, so that in a year or two there should be green terraces, rock walls, shapely flower beds and ornamental shrubs.’
Don’t you just love that phrase ‘competitive violence’ to describe the sort of one-upmanship of neighbours?
In ‘Time of Death’, a tragic accident causes the other women of the community to rally round to support, Leona, the grieving mother.
‘Leona drew up her knees under the quilt and rocked herself back and forth as she wept, and threw her head down and then back (showing, as some of them noticed with a feeling of shame, the dirty lines on her neck).’
That detail of the woman’s dirty neck is what I meant by the unflinching nature of Munro’s observation. And, there is a further sting in the tail because it becomes clear their support is only temporary for a woman they consider of a lower class.
‘In the dark overheated kitchen the women felt the dignity of this sorrow in their maternal flesh, they were humble before this unwashed, unliked and desolate Leona.’
I really enjoyed these stories with their acute observation, dark humour and brilliant evocation of time and place. I hope if I’d read them when they were first published I’d have been adept enough to recognise Alice Munro as the huge literary talent she has since become.
In three words: Dark, perceptive, atmospheric
Try something similar…In A German Pension: 13 Stories by Katherine Mansfield (click here to read my review)
About the Author
Alice Munro grew up in Wingham, Ontario, and attended the University of Western Ontario. She has published thirteen collections of stories as well as a novel, Lives of Girls and Women, and two volumes of Selected Stories. During her distinguished career she has been the recipient of many awards and prizes, including three of Canada’s Governor General’s Literary Awards and two Giller Prizes, the Rea Award for the Short Story, the Lannan Literary Award, England’s W. H. Smith Literary Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the Man Booker International Prize. In 2013 she was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Her story “The Bear Came Over the mountain” was filmed by Sarah Polley as Away from Her, and “Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage” as Hateship Loveship. She lives in Port Hope, Canada, on Lake Ontario.
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