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The Love of a Good Woman

by Alice Munro

Any new collection by Alice Munro is an eagerly awaited event, and despite the hype that the publishing industry is wont to practice, Munro is one of a few living writers who prove worthy of the advance trumpeting. The Love of A Good Woman is her eighth collection of short fiction (not counting Selected Stories), and it is full of surprises that often leave one wondering how Munro is able to use a predominantly plain style and yet with each new book reach further and deeper into the quiddity of life.

The stories in this book are, of course, about love – but love as an affliction, a savage, irrational passion, an agonizing hankering or obsession. There are also stories about friendships and risks, the changes in marriage and life, the distresses and diseases that corrupt or distemper us. Whether a story begins placidly or with retrospective composure, and proceeds to satire, it is likely to fold back, turn a corner or two, revealing in the process some unexpected insight that prompts us to steal truth.

The title story that leads off the collection is an amazing performance beginning in a small-town museum with relics such as photographs, butter churns, horse harnesses, and, most importantly, an ophthalmoscope, a key emblem that gives the illusion of spaciousness plotted around a crime of passion. Yet even though there are early hints of violence, upheaval, and distress, of physical afflictions that catalyze negative passions, the shifting points of view are marvellously wrought, and the reader is held by some mysterious literary alchemy.

Munro’s technique is deceptively straightforward. In “Jakarta,” where a woman yearns after her husband who has mysteriously disappeared, there are easy transitions to the past. In “Cortes Island,” where adultery casts a haunting shadow over a ruined man, and where the female narrator is given to “pagan dreams,” the realism is both ordinary and extravagant. Ambiguity is a palpable device in “Before the Change,” a one-sided epistolary story about antagonisms, secrets, and risks. The only story that may prove troublesome technically is “My Mother’s Dream,” where the retrospective point of view seems too luridly trumped up, and the conclusion is puzzling.