The progress of her narrative

Sometimes, more of the same is just what you need

Greg Corradini

Alice Munro has not written anything new in years.

So it is with her 12th edition of short stories, “Runaway,” that readers can expect the same old, same old. This is, however, a good virtue for a storyteller (or is it magician?) who has hypnotized readers with her short stories for 40-odd years. Out with the old and in with the same old, please.

While some authors unpack a mess of tricks and trapdoors (footnotes, multiple plot lines) in their 500-page novels, Munro holds the course of storytelling craftsmanship 30 pages at a time.

Her rudimentary apparatus is character; character and the ever-elusive moment of self-discovery that her characters (mostly girls and women) either embrace or flee from.

There are Munro’s signature heroines: rural Canadian women who are klutzes but retain a vast wilderness of imagination – sexual and creative. They fall in love. They have affairs. Some are reckless and selfish, abandoning their husbands and children for lives of artistic discovery and freedom.

The same motherly character who has a problematic relationship with her daughter in Munro’s 1983 story “The Moons of Jupiter” is practically the same character, Juliet, in one of Munro’s new short stories, “Silence.”

Juliet, who is also the protagonist in two other stories (“Chance” and “Soon”) in her new book, is a testament to the level of writing Munro has achieved.

In each of the three stories Juliet inhabits, Munro effortlessly constructs the emotional universe of her character at different stages in her life.

In the second story, “Soon,” Juliet visits her rural Canadian hometown, a middle-aged mother with a daughter in tow. In some ways, it is a vacation from her other life, with a man to whom she remains unmarried.

Readers, thanks to Munro’s craftsmanship, expect the unwedded relationship with a man twice Juliet’s age to be the source of scrutiny in the story. And so it seems to start out.

Yet, with the subtlety of rising yeast, Munro leads the story off the well-traveled road and into the gullies of familial relations.

Instead, Juliet begins to investigate the unexplainable hate she has for her bed-ridden mother, a woman she can’t relate to and, ultimately, has emotionally abandoned.

Themes and ideas dovetail, and the dynamics of the mother-daughter domestic relationship take center stage.

As can be expected from a magician this crafty, Munro uses those dynamics to postpone a final resolution.

In the third story, “Silence,” Juliet is now an older woman whose own grown daughter refuses to visit or keep in contact with her. But Juliet’s slow and tedious reconciliation of these two independent events (and the unresolved meaning behind them) has been the fuel for Munro’s writing since she started.

Maybe Munro has not written anything new in years. That’s why people read her. They want to pin down the workings of an elusive sorceress.