Top-shelf collection by Canadian Nobelist Munro, perhaps the best writer of short stories in English today.
Certainly few, if any, narrators are less trustworthy than Munro’s; among many other things, she is the ascended master of quiet betrayals, withheld information and unforeseeable reversals of fortune. “We say of some things that they can’t be forgiven,” says the thoughtful narrator of “Dear Life,” the closing story, “or that we will never forgive ourselves. But we do—we do it all the time.” Yes, we do, but not without torment. Fiona, the protagonist of “The Bear Came Over the Mountain,” the stunning story that is the heart of Sarah Polley’s great film Away From Her, cannot be blamed for causing the pain she does: Dementia has overtaken her, but even so, her husband can't help but wonder whether “she isn’t putting on some kind of a charade.” People put on acts, of course, all the time, and Munro seems to be telling us (as at the very opening of the sly story “The Eye”) that we bamboozle each other from the moment we can understand language—and not necessarily for any malicious reasons. Munro packs plenty of compact but lethal punches, many of them hidden in seemingly gentle words: “I have not kept up with Charlene. I don’t even remember how we said good-bye.” Well, yes, she does, because “[y]ou expected things to end,” and all that catches up to the chief player in “Child’s Play” when she’s called upon to say goodbye again. As is true of so many of Munro’s tales, taken straight from the pages of quotidian life, its end is heartbreaking, tragic, not a little mysterious—and entirely unexpected.
In fact, all that can be expected from these economical, expertly told stories is that they’re near peerless, modern literary fiction at its very best.