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Written by Alice MunroAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Alice Munro

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On Sale: September 23, 2009
Pages: 352 | ISBN: 978-0-307-48776-6
Published by : Vintage Knopf
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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

WINNER OF THE NOBEL PRIZE® IN LITERATURE 2013

In eight new stories, a master of the form extends and magnifies her great themes--the vagaries of love, the passion that leads down unexpected paths, the chaos hovering just under the surface of things, and the strange, often comical desires of the human heart.

Time stretches out in some of the stories: a man and a woman look back forty years to the summer they met--the summer, as it turns out, that the true nature of their lives was revealed. In others time is telescoped: a young girl finds in the course of an evening that the mother she adores, and whose fluttery sexuality she hopes to emulate, will not sustain her--she must count on herself.

Some choices are made--in a will, in a decision to leave home--with irrevocable and surprising consequences. At other times disaster is courted or barely skirted: when a mother has a startling dream about her baby; when a woman, driving her grandchildren to visit the lakeside haunts of her youth, starts a game that could have dangerous consequences. The rich layering that gives Alice Munro's work so strong a sense of life is particularly apparent in the title story, in which the death of a local optometrist brings an entire town into focus--from the preadolescent boys who find his body, to the man who probably killed him, to the woman who must decide what to do about what she might know. Large, moving, profound--these are stories that extend the limits of fiction.

Excerpt

Kath and Sonje have a place of their own on the beach, behind  some large logs. They have chosen this not only for shelter from the  occasional sharp wind--they've got Kath's baby with them--but  because they want to be out of sight of a group of women who use  the beach every day. They call these women the Monicas.

The Monicas have two or three or four children apiece. They  are all under the leadership of the real Monica, who walked down  the beach and introduced herself when she first spotted Kath and  Sonje and the baby. She invited them to join the gang.

They followed her, lugging the carry-cot between them. What  else could they do? But since then they lurk behind the logs.

The Monicas' encampment is made up of beach umbrellas,  towels, diaper bags, picnic hampers, inflatable rafts and whales,  toys, lotions, extra clothing, sun hats, Thermos bottles of coffee,  paper cups and plates, and Thermos tubs in which they carry  homemade fruit-juice Popsicles.

They are either frankly pregnant or look as if they might  be pregnant, because they have lost their figures. They  trudge down to the water's edge, hollering out the  names of their children who are riding and falling off logs or the  inflatable whales.

"Where's your hat? Where's your ball? You've been on that  thing long enough now, let Sandy have a turn."

Even when they talk to each other their voices have to be raised  high, over the shouts and squalls of their children.

"You can get ground round as cheap as hamburger if you go to  Woodward's."

"I tried zinc ointment but it didn't work."

"Now he's got an abscess in the groin."

"You can't use baking powder, you have to use soda."

These women aren't so much older than Kath and Sonje. But  they've reached a stage in life that Kath and Sonje dread. They turn  the whole beach into a platform. Their burdens, their strung-out  progeny and maternal poundage, their authority, can annihilate the  bright water, the perfect small cove with the red-limbed arbutus  trees, the cedars, growing crookedly out of the high rocks. Kath  feels their threat particularly, since she's a mother now herself.  When she nurses her baby she often reads a book, sometimes  smokes a cigarette, so as not to sink into a sludge of animal  function. And she's nursing so that she can shrink her uterus and  flatten her stomach, not just provide the baby--Noelle--with  precious maternal antibodies.

Kath and Sonje have their own Thermos of coffee and their  extra towels, with which they've rigged up a shelter for Noelle.  They have their cigarettes and their books. Sonje has a book  by Howard Fast. Her husband has told her that if she has to read  fiction that's who she should be reading. Kath is reading the short  stories of Katherine Mansfield and the short stories of D. H. Lawrence.  Sonje has got into the habit of putting down her own book and picking  up whichever book of Kath's that Kath is not reading at the moment.  She limits herself to one story and then goes back to Howard Fast.

When they get hungry one of them makes the trek up a long  flight of wooden steps. Houses ring this cove, up on the rocks  under the pine and cedar trees. They are all former summer  cottages, from the days before the Lions Gate Bridge was built,  when people from Vancouver would come across the water for  their vacations. Some cottages--like Kath's and Sonje's--are still  quite primitive and cheap to rent. Others, like the real Monica's,  are much improved. But nobody intends to stay here; everybody's  planning to move on to a proper house. Except for Sonje and her  husband, whose plans seem more mysterious than anybody else's.

There is an unpaved crescent road serving the houses, and  joined at either end to Marine Drive. The enclosed semicircle is full  of tall trees and an undergrowth of ferns and salmonberry bushes,  and various intersecting paths, by which you can take a shortcut  out to the store on Marine Drive. At the store Kath and Sonje will  buy takeout French fries for lunch. More often it's Kath who  makes this expedition, because it's a treat for her to walk under the  trees--something she can't do anymore with the baby carriage.  When she first came here to live, before Noelle was born, she  would cut through the trees nearly every day, never thinking of her  freedom. One day she met Sonje. They had both worked at the  Vancouver Public Library a little while before this, though they had  not been in the same department and had never talked to each  other. Kath had quit in the sixth month of pregnancy as you were  required to do, lest the sight of you should disturb the patrons, and  Sonje had quit because of a scandal.

Or, at least, because of a story that had got into the newspapers.  Her husband, Cottar, who was a journalist working for a magazine  that Kath had never heard of, had made a trip to Red China.  He was referred to in the paper as a left-wing writer. Sonje's picture  appeared beside his, along with the information that she worked in the library. There was concern that in her job she might be promoting  Communist books and influencing children who used the library, so  that they might become Communists. Nobody said that she had done  this--just that it was a danger. Nor was it against the law for somebody  from Canada to visit China. But it turned out that Cottar and Sonje were  both Americans, which made their behavior more alarming, perhaps  more purposeful.

"I know that girl," Kath had said to her husband, Kent, when  she saw Sonje's picture. "At least I know her to see her. She  always seems kind of shy. She'll be embarrassed about this."

"No she won't," said Kent. "Those types love to feel  persecuted, it's what they live for."

The head librarian was reported as saying that Sonje had  nothing to do with choosing books or influencing young  people--she spent most of her time typing out lists.

"Which was funny," Sonje said to Kath, after they had  recognized each other, and spoken and spent about half an hour  talking on the path. The funny thing was that she did not know how  to type.

She wasn't fired, but she had quit anyway. She thought she  might as well, because she and Cottar had some changes  coming up in their future.

Kath wondered if one change might be a baby. It seemed to her  that life went on, after you finished school, as a series of further  examinations to be passed. The first one was getting married. If  you hadn't done that by the time you were twenty-five, that  examination had to all intents and purposes been failed. (She  always signed her name "Mrs. Kent Mayberry" with a sense of  relief and mild elation.) Then you thought about having the first  baby. Waiting a year before you got pregnant was a good idea.  Waiting two years was a little more prudent than necessary. And  three years started people wondering. Then down the road  somewhere was the second baby. After that the progression got  dimmer and it was hard to be sure just when you had arrived at  wherever it was you were going.


Sonje was not the sort of friend who would tell you that she was trying to have a baby and how long she'd been trying and what techniques she was using. She never talked about sex in that way, or about her periods or any behavior of her body--though she soon told Kath things that most people would consider much more shocking. She had a graceful dignity--she had wanted to be a ballet dancer until she got too tall, and she didn't stop regretting that until she met Cottar, who said, "Oh, another little bourgeois girl hoping she'll turn into a dying swan." Her face was broad, calm, pink skinned--she never wore any makeup, Cottar was against makeup--and her thick fair hair was pinned up in a bushy chignon. Kath thought she was wonderful looking--both seraphic and intelligent.

Eating their French fries on the beach, Kath and Sonje discuss characters in the stories they've been reading. How is it that no woman could love Stanley Burnell? What is it about Stanley? He is such a boy, with his pushy love, his greed at the table, his self-satisfaction. Whereas Jonathan Trout--oh, Stanley's wife, Linda, should have married Jonathan Trout, Jonathan who glided through the water while Stanley splashed and snorted. "Greetings, my celestial peach blossom," says Jonathan in his velvety bass voice. He is full of irony, he is subtle and weary. "The shortness of life, the shortness of life," he says. And Stanley's brash world crumbles, discredited.

Something bothers Kath. She can't mention it or think about it. Is Kent something like Stanley?

One day they have an argument. Kath and Sonje have an unexpected and disturbing argument about a story by D. H. Lawrence. The story is called "The Fox."

At the end of that story the lovers--a soldier and a woman named March--are sitting on the sea cliffs looking out on the Atlantic, towards their future home in Canada. They are going to leave England, to start a new life. They are committed to each other, but they are not truly happy. Not yet.

The soldier knows that they will not be truly happy until the woman gives her life over to him, in a way that she has not done so far. March is still struggling against him, to hold herself separate from him, she is making them both obscurely miserable by her efforts to hang on to her woman's soul, her woman's mind. She must stop this--she must stop thinking and stop wanting and let her consciousness go under, until it is submerged in his. Like the reeds that wave below the surface of the water. Look down, look down--see how the reeds wave in the water, they are alive but they never break the surface. And that is how her female nature must live within his male nature. Then she will be happy and he will be strong and content. Then they will have achieved a true marriage.

Kath says that she thinks this is stupid.

She begins to make her case. "He's talking about sex, right?"

"Not just," says Sonje. "About their whole life."

"Yes, but sex. Sex leads to getting pregnant. I mean in the normal course of events. So March has a baby. She probably has more than one. And she has to look after them. How can you do that if your mind is waving around under the surface of the sea?"

"That's taking it very literally," says Sonje in a slightly superior tone.

"You can either have thoughts and make decisions or you can't," says Kath. "For instance--the baby is going to pick up a razor blade. What do you do? Do you just say, Oh, I think I'll just float around here till my husband comes home and he can make up his mind, that is our mind, about whether this is a good idea?"

Sonje said, "That's taking it to extremes."

Each of their voices has hardened. Kath is brisk and scornful, Sonje grave and stubborn.

"Lawrence didn't want to have children," Kath says. "He was jealous of the ones Frieda had from being married before."

Sonje is looking down between her knees, letting sand fall through her fingers. "I just think it would be beautiful," she says. "I think it would be beautiful, if a woman could."

Kath knows that something has gone wrong. Something is wrong with her own argument. Why is she so angry and excited? And why did she shift over to talking about babies, about children? Because she has a baby and Sonje doesn't? Did she say that about Lawrence and Frieda because she suspects that it is partly the same story with Cottar and Sonje?

When you make the argument on the basis of the children, about the woman having to look after the children, you're in the clear. You can't be blamed. But when Kath does that she is covering up. She can't stand that part about the reeds and the water, she feels bloated and suffocated with incoherent protest. So it is herself she is thinking of, not of any children. She herself is the very woman that Lawrence is railing about. And she can't reveal that straight out because it might make Sonje suspect--it might make Kath herself suspect--an impoverishment in Kath's life.

Sonje who has said, during another alarming conversation, "My happiness depends on Cottar."

My happiness depends on Cottar.

That statement shook Kath. She would never have said it about Kent. She didn't want it to be true of herself.

But she didn't want Sonje to think that she was a woman who had missed out on love. Who had not considered, who had not been offered, the prostration of love.
Alice Munro|Author Q&A

About Alice Munro

Alice Munro - The Love of a Good Woman

Photo © Derek Shapton

Alice Munro grew up in Wingham, Ontario, and attended the University of Western Ontario. She has published fourteen collections of stories as well as a novel, Lives of Girls and Women. 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 of its Giller Prizes, the Rea Award for the Short Story, the Lannan Literary Award, England’s W. H. Smith Book Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the Man Booker International Prize. In 2013 she was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Her stories have appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The Paris Review, Granta, and other publications, and her collections have been translated into thirteen languages. She lives in Clinton, Ontario, near Lake Huron. 


------------------------ 


Alice Munro nació en 1931 en Wingham, Ontario, y se graduó de la Universidad de Western Ontario. Es autora de doce colecciones de cuentos, dos novelas, y una novela publicada en 1971, nunca traducida al castellano.
 
A lo largo de su carrera, Munro ha recibido premios de mucho prestigio, y en 2013 recibe el Premio Nobel de Literatura. Conocida como la “Chéjov canadiense”, ella misma se declara en deuda con autoras de la talla de Flannery O’Connor, Katherine Anne Porter y Eudora Welty. Actualmente la autora vive parte del año en Clinton, Ontario, y parte en Comox, en la Columbia Británica. Demasiada felicidad es su colección de cuentos más reciente. 

Author Q&A

Q: What draws you to short stories as opposed to novels? What do you find that the shorter form enables you to do that a novel perhaps would not?

A: I seem to turn out stories that violate the discipline of the short story form and don't obey the rules of progression for novels. I don't think about a particular form, I think more about fiction, let's say a chunk of fiction. What do I want to do? I want to tell a story, in the old-fashioned way--what happens to somebody--but I want that 'what happens' to be delivered with quite a bit of interruption, turnarounds, and strangeness. I want the reader to feel something is astonishing--not the 'what happens' but the way everything happens. These long short story fictions do that best, for me.

Q: Where do you get the idea for a story or for a particular character?

A: Sometimes I get the start of a story from a memory, an anecdote, but that gets lost and is usually unrecognizable in the final story. Suppose you have--in memory--a young woman stepping off a train in an outfit so elegant her family is compelled to take her down a peg (as happened to me once), and it somehow becomes a wife who's been recovering from a mental breakdown, met by her husband and his mother and the mother's nurse whom the husband doesn't yet know he's in love with. How did that happen? I don't know.

Q: What are your writing habits--Do you use a computer? Do you write every day? In the morning or at night? How long does it take to complete a story?

A: I've been using a computer for a year--I'm a late convert to every technological offering and still don't own a microwave oven--but I do one or two drafts long hand before I go to the keyboard. A story might be done in two months, beginning to end, and ready to go, but that's rare. More likely six to eight months, many changes, some false directions, much fiddling and some despair. I write everyday unless it's impossible and start writing as soon as I get up and have made coffee and try to get two to three hours in before real life hauls me away.

Q: What advice would you give to young writers?

A: It's not possible to advise a young writer because every young writer is so different. You might say, "Read," but a writer can read too much and be paralyzed. Or, "Don't read, don't think, just write," and the result could be a mountain of drivel. If you're going to be a writer you'll probably take a lot of wrong turns and then one day just end up writing something you have to write, then getting it better and better just because you want it to be better, and even when you get old and think "There must be something else people do" you won't quite be able to quit.

Q: What writers have most influenced you and who do you like to read?

A: When I was young it was Eudora Welty, Carson McCullers, Katherine Anne Porter, Flannery O'Connor, James Agee. Then Updike, Cheever, Joyce Carol Oates, Peter Taylor, and especially and forever, William Maxwell. Also William Trevor, Edna O'Brien, Richard Ford. These I would say are influences. There are dozens of others I just like to read. My latest discovery is a Dutch writer, Cees Nooteboom. I hate doing lists like this because I'll be banging my head soon that I left somebody wonderful out. That's why I speak only of those who have influenced, not of all who have delighted me.

Q: Cynthia Ozick has called you "our Chekhov." How does that comparison make you feel?

A: I have recently re-read much of Chekhov and it's a humbling experience. I don't even claim Chekhov as an influence because he influenced all of us. Like Shakespeare his writing shed the most perfect light--there's no striving in it, no personality. Well, of course, wouldn't I love to do that!

Q: Many critics have praised you for being able to create an entire life in a page. How do you achieve such a feat?

A: I always have to know my characters in a lot of depth--what clothes they'd choose, what they were like at school, etc . . . And I know what happened before and what will happen after the part of their lives I'm dealing with. I can't see them just now, packed into the stress of the moment. So I suppose I want to give as much of them as I can.

Q: Most of your stories have not strayed very far from home--your native Ontario. What makes where you live such fertile ground for so many different stories?

A: I don't think of myself as being in any way an interpreter of rural Ontario, where I live. I think there's perhaps an advantage living here of knowing more different sorts of people than you would know in a larger community (where you'd be shut up, mostly, in your own income or educational or professional "class"). The physical setting is perhaps "real" to me, in a way no other is. I love the landscape, not as "scenery" but as something intimately known. Also the weather, the villages and towns, not in their picturesque aspects but in all phases. Human experience though doesn't seem to me to differ, except in fairly superficial ways, no matter what the customs and surroundings.

Q: Memory plays a key role in many of your stories. What is it about the power of memory and how it shapes our lives that most intrigues you?

A: Memory is the way we keep telling ourselves our stories--and telling other people a somewhat different version of our stories. We can hardly manage our lives without a powerful ongoing narrative. And underneath all these edited, inspired, self-serving or entertaining stories there is, we suppose, some big bulging awful mysterious entity called THE TRUTH, which our fictional stories are supposed to be poking at and grabbing pieces of. What could be more interesting as a life's occupation? One of the ways we do this, I think, is by trying to look at what memory does (different tricks at different stages of our lives) and at the way people's different memories deal with the same (shared) experience. The more disconcerting the differences are, the more the writer in me feels an odd exhilaration.

Q: Do you have a particular story or stories that are especially close to your heart?

A: I always like the story I'm trying to write at the moment the best, and the stories I've just published next best, In my new book, I'm very attached to "Save the Reaper" and "My Mother's Dream." Among the older ones, I like "Progress of Love" and "Labor Day Dinner" and "Carried Away" a lot. And actually many others.

Praise | Awards

Praise

Superb...Long ago, Virginia Woolf described George Eliot as one of the few writers 'for grown-up people.' The same might today, and with equal justice, be said of Alice Munro.--Michael Gorra, New York Times Book Review

A writer for the ages--Dan Cryer, Newsday

Alice Munro is indisputably a master. Like all great writers, she helps sharpen perception...Her imagination is fearless...A better book of stories can scarcely be imagined.--Greg Varner, Washington Post Book World

A riveting collection...a lovely book. Munro's stories move through the years with a sneaky grace.--Georgia Jones-Davis, San Francisco Chronicle

A triumph...certain to seal her reputation as our contemporary Chekhov--Carol Shields, Mirabella

Superlative...She distills a novel's worth of dramatic events into a story of 20 pages.--Erik Huber, Time OutM

These astonishing stories remind us, yet again, of the literary miracles Alice Munro continues to perform.--Francine Prose, Elle

Praise from fellow writers:

“Her work felt revolutionary when I came to it, and it still does.” —Jhumpa Lahiri

“She is one of the handful of writers, some living, most dead, whom I have in mind when I say that fiction is my religion.” —Jonthan Franzen

“The authority she brings to the page is just lovely.” —Elizabeth Strout

“She’s the most savage writer I’ve ever read, also the most tender, the most honest, the most perceptive.” —Jeffery Eugenides

“Alice Munro can move characters through time in a way that no other writer can.”—Julian Barnes

“She is a short-story writer who…reimagined what a story can do.” —Loorie Moore

“There’s probably no one alive who’s better at the craft of the short story.” —Jim Shepard

“A true master of the form.” —Salman Rushdie

“A wonderful writer.” —Joyce Carol Oates 

Awards

WINNER 1998 National Book Critics Circle Awards
WINNER 2009 Man Booker International Prize
WINNER 2013 Nobel Prize
Reader's Guide|About the Book|Author Biography|Discussion Questions

About the Book

The questions, discussion topics, and author biography that follow are intended to enhance your group's reading of Alice Munro's collection The Love of a Good Woman. In these eight stories, a master of the form extends and magnifies her great themes--the vagaries of love, the passion that leads down unexpected paths, the chaos hovering just under the surface of things, and the strange, often comical desires of the human heart.

About the Guide

Time stretches out in some of the stories: a man and a woman look back forty years to the summer they met--the summer, as it turns out, that the true nature of their lives was revealed. In others time is telescoped: a young girl finds in the course of an evening that the mother she adores, and whose fluttery sexuality she hopes to emulate, will not sustain her--she must count on herself. Some choices are made--in a will, in a decision to leave home--with irrevocable and surprising consequences. At other times disaster is courted or barely skirted: when a mother has a startling dream about her baby; when a woman, driving her grandchildren to visit the lakeside haunts of her youth, starts a game that could have dangerous consequences. Large, moving, profound--these beautifully told stories reveal life's rich layers and subtle implications, and in the process, expand the limits of fiction.

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 of its Giller Prizes, the Rea Award for the Short Story, the Lannan Literary Award, England’s W. H. Smith Book Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the Man Booker International Prize. In 2013 she was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Her stories have appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, The Paris Review, Granta, and other publications, and her collections have been translated into thirteen languages. She lives in Clinton, Ontario, near Lake Huron. 

Discussion Guides

1. In the first story, "The Love of a Good Woman," how has the town of Jutland, its way of life and its mores, affected Enid's character and desires and helped to mold her into the person she is? What does she want from life and what compromises has she made? Does she believe Mrs. Quinn's tale of murder? If so, does it make Rupert more, or less, attractive to her? What exactly does she want from Rupert?

2. What does the author accomplish by dividing "Jakarta" into two parts--the distant past and the present? In what essential way do the two marriages (Kath and Kent; Sonje and Cottar) differ? How are Kath's and Sonje's different attitudes to marriage borne out in the subsequent courses of their lives? Might Sonje's conviction that Cottar is still alive be true, or is it merely an attempt to hold on to a remnant of her former happiness?

3. In "Cortes Island," why did the narrator and her husband decide to marry, and how does the marriage evolve? Does the author imply that the same evolution occurs in many, or most, marriages? What sort of reflection do the Gorries and their rather grotesque marriage and menage cast upon that of their young lodgers? Why does Mr. Gorrie want the narrator to know about his past? Why is Mr. Gorrie, rather than any other man, featured in the narrator's erotic dreams? How does the narrator's sense of self change over the course of her story?

4. In what ways are Eve and Sophie in "Save the Reaper" similar in character, and in what ways are they different? Would you say that Sophie, either consciously or unconsciously, has modeled her life on her mother's? If so, is the situation changing? Why does Eve, in spite of her obvious fears, give the vagrant girl directions to her house? What might the title of the story (a quotation from Alfred, Lord Tennyson's poem "The Lady of Shallott") signify?

5. How does Pauline, in "The Children Stay," perceive marriage and family life? Does the author imply that the pretenses and the feeling of imprisonment that Pauline experiences are present, to some degree, in every marriage? Is the "bleakness" Pauline senses in herself and her father-in-law due to their situations, or their characters? Pauline says at the end that Jeffrey was not Orphée. Is she being honest? In what ways does "The Children Stay" echo or parallel the story of Orpheus and Eurydice? What role does the idea of fate play for the various characters?

6. How does Karin in "Rich As Stink" perceive the dynamic between Rosemary, Derek and Ann? How closely does her perception correspond with the reality? Would you agree with Karin that Derek has "given up on" both Rosemary and Ann (p. 236)? How much has Rosemary's wealth to do with her acceptance by Derek and Ann? Why doesn't Ann want Derek to see Karin in her wedding dress, and why is Karin determined to wear it to the dinner party? What sort of future do you envision for Rosemary? For Karin?

7. In "Before the Change," what do the narrator's experiences at home with her father tell her about her relationship with Robin, its illusions, and its unhappy end? Robin differentiates "ideas" and "life"; is he being cynical or simply realistic? How are the narrator's beliefs about abortion and parenthood affected by her own mother's death in childbirth, and how are these beliefs modified during the course of the story? How do her ideas about love, too, undergo changes? Might she have made different decisions about her love affair and pregnancy if she had it to do over again?

8. In "My Mother's Dream," what has the dream, described at the beginning of the story, to do with Jill's actual life and experiences? Has she known what it is to "leave" a baby? What relation does Jill's struggle with the baby have to her struggle with George's family and his memory? Would you say that this mother-child struggle is a universal one, extreme though it is in Jill's case?


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