The Sunday Salon-Converted (and a giveaway)

The Sunday Salon.com

How lovely of you to meet me here at First Cup, my favorite local coffee house.  It seems we have the place to ourselves this morning – those sheets of freezing rain pouring from the sky must have kept everyone at home.  Everyone except Amy, my favorite barista (who was thrilled to have The Sunday Salon gather here) – and you of course.  So settle in  -that leather chair in the corner is quite comfy – and let me order coffee for you. 

I’m enormously excited to tell you about my reading this week, for I’ve just finished my second short story collection.  When I chose Friend of My Youth by Alice Munroe as one of my selections for the Short Story Challenge, I was aware of her reputation as a short story writer par excellence,  and that reputation is certainly well deserved.  Each one of these 10 stories unfolds like slow motion photography, the characters revealing their deep, often surprising secrets with cool restraint, as the stories of their lives develop before our eyes. 

Like Brenda, (Five Points) who “used to teach nursery school,” and her husband Cornelius “who was twelve years older.”   Now they live on a farm and sell used appliances, which Cornelius “fixes up.”  And in the evenings, Brenda drives out of town to meet Neil, her lover.  When she sets eyes on him, waiting for her in his Mercury, “it’s like hitting water when you’re dead of heat and scratched and bitten all over from picking berries in the summer bush – the lapping sweetness, the cool kindness of it soaking up all your troubles in its hidden depths.”  

And Georgia, (Differently) who works part-time in a bookstore, while her husband Ben is “off on his yearly cruise in the Navy.” She enjoys meeting people, talking with them about books, making cups of raspberry tea.   When Miles first comes into the store, leaving his motorcycle parked at the curb, she’s immediately drawn to his “valiant profile, his dusty red hair (he took off his helmet and shook out his hair before coming into the store), and his quick, slouching, insolent, invading way of moving.”  Soon, with his “oblivious prowling, and unsmiling, lengthy, gray-eyed looks, he had Georgia in a disturbed and not disagreeable state.”  So when he asks her to go riding on his motorcycle, “Georgia said yes; she knew what was bound to happen.”

(Is it getting warm in here, or is it just me?)

The mysteries of life – of which clandestine sexuality is only one – figure largely in each of these stories.  A recent widow travels to Scotland to connect with the people and places her husband spoke of seeing during his service in the war, and finds things not at all as she expected them to be (Hold Me Fast, Don’t Let Me Pass).  A retired minister creates an elaborate ruse in order to live the remainder of his life on his own terms (Pictures of the Ice).  And, in the title story, a woman’s strange dreams about her mother’s last illness reveal some complex truths about their relationship.

I was drawn to each of the characters in these stories, completely involved in their tales of birth, marriage, divorce, death.  My heart ached for them, these women from small Canadian farming communities coming of age in the 50’s and 60’s, and  confronted with the task of remaking their lives in a world where all the expectations have suddenly changed. 

Alice Munroe is a remarkable writer, her words chosen so carefully, her sentences structured so beautifully, creating rich, warm portraits of people and place.  Each story is completely satisfying (even to this ravenous reader who has never before found short stories fulfilling), with the complexity of a  novel deftly compacted into just a few pages.  These are “writer’s stories,” so perfectly crafted they become the “true north” in the galaxy of short story writing. 

Friend of My Youth has converted me, a short story cynic, into a short story lover.  Now, I can’t wait to get my hands on another one of Munroe’s collections – and since she’s written at least 10 of them (and only one novel!), I’ll have plenty to feast on for quite some time. 

I’m so excited about this collection, that I want to share it with you, especially if you’re a short story cynic like I was~  (come on, admit it – I know you’re out there.)  Leave me a comment and confess all – one of you will win a brand new copy of Friend of My Youth.

I’m willing to bet that you too will be converted.

And now Sunday afternoon stretches in front of me.  I have new books to start~The Enchanted April, by Elizabeth von Arnim sits on top of the stack.  And The View From Castle Rock (another Munroe short story) is also on my chair at home, this month’s selection for A Curious Singularity, the short story blog/discussion group, which I’ve decided to join. (see, told you I was converted!)

Oh, look~ I think the rain may have let up.

Shall we venture outside and see? 

Friend of My Youth

by Alice Munroe

published 1990, by Alfred Knopf

273 pages

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20 thoughts on “The Sunday Salon-Converted (and a giveaway)

  1. I did read a book of short stories last summer –and I will say, it wasn’t too bad! Do I want a steady diet of short stories? No. lol

  2. I was a short story cynic for a long time, but now I’m reformed. I haven’t read Munroe but if you’re looking for another artful short story writer where every word seems meticulously chosen, try Simon Van Booy. He has a wonderful collection called The Secret Lives of People in Love. It was independently published by Turtle Point Press, but it is one of the best collections I’ve ever read.

  3. Seems that short-story discovering is in vogue. I started an alphabetical read through short-story and novella territory earlier this year. So the Munro would fit in very well – particularly well as I’ve been reading mostly Canadiana during February.

  4. I’m still a short story cynic I suppose. I have to say, I find so many of them lacking — or they are just plain “weird” and I can’t figure out what the heck the author was trying to say. Even from authors whose novels I enjoy (Joanne Harris comes to mind and Gail Godwin as well).

    But Alice Munro. Ah, she is in a completely different category. Perhaps because she only ever writes short stories. I have always been an Alice Munro fan — every book she has written has been a joy. And as you said, you can “feel” her characters. She is able to say a very great deal in a very short piece.

  5. Off topic…moving back to Jane Austen for a moment…I am so pleased that my almost 20 year old son is reading “Sense and Sensibility” for his English Lit class at Uni…and he’s enjoying discussing it. As we drove home from his 16 year old brother’s hockey game last night, the two of us discussed the characters, the title, Jane’s life — it was wonderful. Best of all? His compliment to me — that listening to me speak of this book is like listening to his prof and as we exited the car to enter the house he said “you know, you could have taught English mom — you’d have been so good at it.” And he sent me nothing for Valentine’s Day — I believe he did last night!! 🙂

  6. I was a short story cynic, I like to live with the characters for longer then the short story allows. However, the Washington Post had a short story special supplement last week and I liked one of the stories so much, Ask for Pain – Julie Orringer. I ordered the author’s collection from Amazon.
    I’ll have to look out for Anne Munroe.

  7. I am a serious short story cynic and have tried every which way to get over it. My latest idea is to induce one of my f2f groups to spend a year reading the book awards for a particular past year and include in that a short story prize (there must be one) so that I have to read it to save face. You can tell I’m getting desperate.

    Do read ‘The Enchanted April’. I think it is the most wonderful book and I would love to hear your thoughts.

  8. Short stories are like a workout at the gym– I always kind of dread opening the book, but often really enjoy it once I make the effort. Munroe is really wonderful, isn’t she?

    I really enjoy the stories of Jean Rhys, if you are ever looking for something new.

  9. I am participating in the Short Story Challenge this year as well, although Alice Munro did not make my list this time around. I have never read anything by her, but someday I’ll get to Runaway, which is sitting on my shelf so patiently.

    I hope you enjoy the rest of your day and have a great week.

  10. I can hardly wait now to see what location you’ve picked out for us each week! And your review has made me delightfully impatient to get on with The View from Castle Rock – I’m looking forward to it now so much! I loved The Enchanted April too – if ever there was a book to banish rainclouds, that is IT.

  11. I’ll take a cafe mocha please! Your favorite coffee house sounds lovely. I wish there was something like that around me but alas Starbucks will have to do.
    And, yes, count me in as a short story cynic. I don’t know why as the few short stories I’ve read I’ve really enjoyed – Interpreter of Maladies comes to mind. I’m thinking of joining A Curious Singularity (and of course with the participation in the Short Story challenge) to get over this view of short stories once and for all!
    Oh and did you start The Enchanted April? It is a fabulous book. I hope you love it.

  12. I’m not much of a short story reader. I usually read one collection a year for my local library’s summer reading program, since that’s part of the requirement. I’ve actually enjoyed the ones I’ve read, but I still don’t voluntarily pick up short stories to read.

    Add me to the drawing. You’ve made this collection sound like a must-read. Thank-you.

  13. I’ve never been a short story cynic, though I’ve never particularly been a short story lover either, just reading them whenever appealing stories or collections came across my path. Some time last year this changed and I’ve become much more “aware” of short stories and reading more of them on purpose. I have a feeling that this shift is the result of me starting to read litblogs and finding out how many good short story writers and collections there actually are.

    Alice Munroe happens to be one of the writers who I had never heard about before I started reading litblogs and who I’ve since put on my wishlist. So if you are willing to send overseas, I’d love to be added to the draw! If not, no problem!

  14. I’ve been a short story fan from the beginning and Alice Munro is one of my favourite authors. I agree with you that each of her stories feels as expansive as a novel, which may partially explain how she’s achieved the sort of wide popularity that usually eludes short story writers. I don’t know how she manages to do so much in so little space, but the effect is truly magical.

  15. I have trouble getting into the short story format. It’s ironic — the first thing Rick reads in the New Yorker after Talk of the Town is the fiction piece. I start at the back with the reviews and then jump to the index where I fly around — and fiction is often the last to be read, if it is read at all. Yet give me a book…Interesting. I do enjoy Alice Munroe’s stories, though. Perhaps I should give the genre another try! (Did you conclude your Sunday with Pride and Prejudice?)

  16. It’s surprising that so many of you are a bit reluctant to read short stories~somehow I thought I was just a bit pecuilar in that regard.

    Kate, I’m really thankful for your Short Story Challenge this year, since it’s spurred me to make the effort and discover this genre I had been avoiding!

    I’ll be leaving comments open for another day, and then have my random number generator pick a winner for the book giveaway.

  17. I have never been a short story cynic. I have always loved them and thought them to be a “higher art form” than the novel. Great, now I sound like a snob.

    I decided about two hours ago that the next short story author I want to read is Alice Munro, but even if I hadn’t decided I would have to read her after what you wrote. I am looking forward to reviewing what you said again after I get a few of her stories under my belt.

    I have collection after collection of short story anthologies and Alice Munro has a story in almost every one, yet to this day I have never read one of her stories.

  18. Pingback: The Sunday Salon -Bits and Pieces « Bookstack

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