Alice Munro’s Runaway is a rich and compelling collection. It took me longer to finish this book than I thought it would but I felt I had to stop after each story, absorb it, let it live within me for a few hours before I could go on to the next. It is a remarkable book.
Three of the stories (three interconnected stories–“Chance”, “Soon” & “Silence”) I read previously in The New Yorker and thought them wonderful but they are not my favorites of this collection. My favorites are “Runaway”, “Passion” and “Trespasses”, which I loved the most.
“Trespasses” moved me not only because the situation was odd and sad (a young girl finds out secrets about her parents—that there had been another baby who had died, that she might be adopted) but because that moment of chilhood slipping away and people, who were once trusted and believed unerring, are revealed as fallible, is so familiar to the human existence and yet Munro brings it to us in a new way. And this, at least in my mind, is what Munro does best—shines the light back on the reader. Tells us our own story but in another’s words.
All of these stories have something that makes them special (although, I wouldn’t say that they are all perfect stories–take the final story “Powers”, for example–even though I appreciated all of the risks Munro took with it, it read to me more like an outline for a novel, than a story–although I did love the moment when Nancy finally sees Ollie for who is he) and they all carry the common thread of what it means to be a woman/girl/human being—sometimes knowing, often scared, ultimately alone. The beautiful moments within each of the stories are those moments when Munro illuminates the thoughts of her characters and reveals what it is that makes them each unique, each sublime, such as this moment from “Trespasses”:
Lauren had a particular feeling of disgust about feet in nylon stockings. Not about bare feet, or feet in socks, or feet in shoes, or feet in nylons covered up in shoes, just about feet in nylons out in the open, particularly touching any other cloth. This was just a private queer feeling—like the feeling she had about mushrooms, or cereal slopping around in milk.
Essentially, Munro tells us the secrets of her characters and in doing so she reveals to us our own hidden wants, fears, disgusts and loves.