With a few strokes of her pen, Munro (Friend of My Youth, 1990) has the unerring ability to familiarize us with a foreign country or the entire life of another person. Even if you've already read these latest stories in the New Yorker, you'll want to luxuriate in their gorgeous prose again and again. Munro's women must take repeated flight from the harshness of their realities -- bad spinsterhood, worse marriages -- into their imaginations, where wrongs are alternately redressed or allowed to fester into self-doubt and guilt. Louisa, the protagonist of "Carried Away," is a small Canadian town's lonely librarian who receives an unexpected letter (one of many tantalizing missives sent and received in this complex, multilayered collection) from the equally desolate Jack, a WW I soldier whom she has never met but who remembers her from the library and woos her through the mail. After the war, he never introduces himself in person, and she reads in the newspaper of his betrayal and marriage to another woman. Jack continues to be the obsession of her thoughts and actions when his head is severed from his body in a horrific accident at the piano factory where he works and Louisa plunges into a "normal" life and marries the factory's owner. Years later, when an elderly Louisa thinks she is having a conversation with an elderly Jack in town, we realize that Jack's death or even Jack himself may be a figment of her imagination. Similarly, we aren't quite sure if an old bag lady in Victoria, B.C., was kidnapped in her youth by Albanian tribesmen ("An Albanian Virgin"), if a woman in the 1850s Canadian wilderness actually murdered her husband, who may or may not have been abusing her ("A Wilderness Station"), or if a teenager who disappeared from a hike was murdered, kidnapped, or simply ran off with a guy she had the hots for ("Open Secrets"). In Munro's hands, fact is a stepsister to fiction and reality may have nothing in common with life's truths. Storytelling made essential by one of the true pros.