This session’s published piece is “Runaway,” by Alice Munro.
I read Alice Munro’s Runaway in order to facilitate a book group discussion on the collection of short stories (see this post on my blog). I discovered that I had actually already read one of the stories, “Chance,” for a different writers group, so I was familiar with Munro’s lyrical yet economical prose–she’s been called the Chekhov of our time–but when I first cracked the book, I didn’t know that. Instead, I thought I was going in blind as I read the title story, and though I was awed by the power of Munro’s writing, my main thought went something like this: Are all the stories in the book going to be this weird? It was an “I don’t get it” experience, not to mention “I don’t like it.” However, as I thought about the story, and after discussing it with the book group, I had a greater appreciation/liking for the story. Which is why, self-tasked with presenting one of her brilliant pieces to MUG, I chose this one.
First, a brief note on Munro:
Alice Munro has published 11 collections of stories and a novel. She’s received many awards and prizes, including three of Canada’s Governor General’s Literary Awards and two of its Giller Prizes, the US National Book Critics Circle Award, and the Edward MacDowell Medal in literature. Her stories have been published in The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, The Paris Review, and others, and her collections have been translated into thirteen languages.
Questions for reading:
1. What do you make of the relationship between Sylvia and Carla? Between Carla and Clark?
2. Do you think it was right for Sylvia to try to help Carla?
3. Do you think Carla has the achieved the “more authentic life” she told her parents she wanted? What did she mean by this? Why does Carla return?
4. What is the significance of the goat? Its disappearance, reappearance, and the bones Carla discovers at the end?
5. Munro is a master of “show don’t tell.” Which sentences/scenes particularly struck you?
6. Consider Munro’s use of epistolary technique. Why would she do this? How do the letters enhance the story?
More on Munro:
In this NY Times article, Munro claims she is going to stop writing.
An interview with Alice Munro in The Paris Review.
- As a child, Munro was constantly telling herself stories. One of the first was “The Little Mermaid,” by Hans Christian Anderson, whose ending she couldn’t bear. The mermaid has to make a choice between killing the prince and going back to join her mermaid sisters, a decision that Munro thought was horribly unfair. So she made up a new, happier ending.
- People in her hometown who read her stories often say, “Well, that was certainly strange.” Or, “I read your story in The New Yorker,” after which there is a long pause and Munro almost feels that she should say she’s sorry.
- She sees her stories visually before they become words. She often starts with an image of some incident and the people involved—a sense of some action, or some effect that the characters have created on each other. She doesn’t know at that stage exactly what’s happened to them or what they’re saying to each other, only that these people somehow belong in the story together.
- The process of writing hasn’t got any easier as she’s aged. Every day is still a struggle, and “it always seems like a miracle that I’m so grateful for, if it seems to work.”