There are eight stories in Alice Munro's new collection, and the first four, ‘Runaway’, ‘Chance’, ‘Soon’, and ‘Silence’, are so emotionally powerful, indeed overwhelming, that I had to put the book down and stop reading for a few days to recover before I felt ready to return.
Unexpectedly, the second half of the book is much less intense. Its four stories are cerebral and self-reflexive, but rather cold. This difference is partly thematic; while all the stories deal in some fashion with women trying to run away from their stifling, conventional lives, the first four are about the difficult, almost mythic bonds between mothers and daughters (or surrogate mothers and surrogate daughters), and the stories in the second half are more about the risks, tricks, and passions of art. The final story, ‘Powers’, is actually a novella about clairvoyance, its links to artistic vision, and its exploitation and diminishment. Moving and elegiac, it is also intellectually demanding. Yet I suspect that the tales about mothers and daughters will strike a deeper chord of feeling in most readers than the tales of literary plots, losses, and secrets.
Mother figures take a huge risk when they try to interfere in daughters’ lives, and Munro is able to show the conflict simultaneously from both sides. ‘Runaway’ links the stories of two generations of women. Carla is the young rebel who has run away from her suburban family, with ‘their