In these stories lives come into focus through single events or sudden memories which bring the past bubbling to the surface. The past, as Alice Munro's characters discover, is made up not only of what is remembered, but also what isn't. The past is there, just out of the picture, but if memories haven't been savoured, recalled in the mind and boxed away, it's as if they have never been - until a moment when the pieces of the jigsaw re-form suddenly, sometimes pleasurably but more often painfully. Women look back at their young selves, at first marriages made when they were naive and trusting, at husbands and their difficult, demanding little ways. There is in this new collection an underlying heartbreak, a sense of regret in her characters for what might have been, for a fork in the road not taken, a memory suppressed in an act of prudent emotional housekeeping. But at the same time there is hope, there are second chances - here are people who reinvent themselves, seize life by the throat, who have moved on and can dare to conjure up the hidden memories, daring to go beyond what is remembered.
Readers know what they are going to get when they pick up an unfamiliar Alice Munro collection, and yet almost every page carries a bounty of unexpected action, feeling, language, and detail. Her stories are always unique, blazing an invigorating originality out of her seemingly commonplace subjects. Each collection develops her oeuvre in increments, subtly expanding her range.
Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage is, of course, no exception. It is a fairly conservative collection of nine stories, none of which move far beyond Munro's favored settings: the tiny towns and burgeoning cities of southern Ontario and British Columbia. There are glimpses of youth here--in the title story, an epistolary prank by two teenage girls leads to a one-sided cross country elopement and, seemingly, a happy marriage, and in "Nettles," disrupted childhood affection fleetingly returns through a chance meeting--but most of these pieces are stories of aging women and men, confronting the twin travails of death and late love. As is always the case with Munro, their plots are too elegantly elaborate to summarize, and their unsentimental power is a given; baroque praise would be futile. Read these stories--it is the only way to really understand the miracles that Munro so regularly performs. --Jack Illingworth