Getting sick and forced to stay in bed does have its advantages; I got to start reading books I have stacked in a pile of ‘must reads’. In fairness, the ‘must read’ pile has been growing for ages; it takes up a whole shelf in my study so it’s about time I made a dent in it.
I picked a collection of short stories called ‘Friend of my youth’ by Alice Munro. A member of my writing group mentioned that he found that she tended to span many years in her stories. I hesitated after the comment but was curious all the same and now I understand why she is such a phenomenal short story writer. Wow, the ease with which she weaves her characters lives, from present to past, is flawless, detailed, intricate. A comment by the Daily Telegraph on the back of the book says
‘The particular brilliance of Alice Munro is that in range and depth her short stories are almost novels’
and that’s exactly it. After each story you feel that you have read an entire novel and been with these characters forever. They are so real, unique and well defined along with the settings that I feel that I am with them, in Canada or Scotland, in whatever location, Alice Munro has set the short story.
Even the descriptions do not feel intrusive, they pull you in, make you privy to a range of secrets about these people, and the choices they make in their relationships to themselves, their partners, and the other people in the narrative. At the heart of each story is someone, sometimes more than one, coming to a stronger position of realisation of their situation, indeed their own future. In the story ‘Pictures of the ice’ even with the weaving of the stories of two main characters both is moving to a new decision that takes their life to a better (their choice) place.
Overall, the stories show people choosing how they live and the choices that have gone on before. These are not stock characters, they are living breathing individuals.
I fully believe Alice Munro knew her characters intimately as she wrote about them and this book is a master class in character development and the integration of ‘telling detail’ through a story that never holds up the plot. That’s what I want to achieve in my characters.