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In Lives of Girls and Women and The Beggar Maid (the Flo and Rose stories), Canadian short-story writer Munro drew unusual strength and sharpness from the vivid particulars of growing-up with--and growing out from--a stifling yet intense Canadian background. Here, though a few of these eleven new stories reach back to that core material effectively, the focus is looser, the specifics are less arresting, and Munro's alter-egos have moved on to a real yet not-always-compelling dilemma: over 40, long-divorced, children grown, these women waver "on the edge of caring and not caring"--about men, love, sex. In "Dulse," an editor/poet vacations alone, away from a troubled affair--and is confronted by sensuality on the one hand and the "lovely, durable shelter" of celibate retreat on the other. Two other stories feature the hurt and compromise involved in "casual" affairs--casual for the man, perhaps, less so for the woman. And in "Labor Day Dinner," the divorced woman is trying again, but with a sometimes-cruel man ("Your armpits are flabby," he says) whose love must be periodically revived by her displays of (unfeigned) indifference. Still, if these studies of to-care-or-not-to-care uneasiness lack the vigor of earlier Munro (at their weakest they're reminiscent of Alice Adams), a few other pieces are reassuringly full-blooded: "The Turkey Season," about a teenage girl who takes a part-time job as a turkey-gutter and learns some thorny first lessons about unrequited love; the title story, in which a woman's trip to the planetarium illuminates her turmoil (a dying father, a rejecting daughter) with metaphor; wonderful, resonant reminiscences about the contrasting spinsters on both sides of a family. And Munro's versatility is on display in other variations on the caring/not-caring tension--between two aging brothers, between two octogenarians in a nursing-home. Only one story here, in fact, is second-rate ("Accident," an unshapely parable of adultery, guilt, and Fate); Munro's lean, graceful narrative skills are firmly demonstrated throughout. But the special passion and unique territory of her previous collections are only intermittently evident here--making this something of a let-down for Munro admirers.
Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1982
ISBN: 0679732705
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 1982


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