Runaway

Munro, Alice

Published by Chatto & Windus
ISBN 10: 0701177500 / ISBN 13: 9780701177508
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Synopsis: At the centre of Runaway are three stories connected into one marvellously rich, long narrative, about Juliet - who escapes from teaching at a girls' school into a wild and passionate love match; then returns to the home of her parents, whose life and curious marriage she finally begins to examine; while in the third part of her story, her vanished child turns up caught in the grip of a religious cult. The whole picture emerges only when all the pieces of the jigsaw are finally in place. The runaway of the disturbing title story is Carla, a congenital 'bolter', who has neighbourly fantasies that take on a frightening afterlife...Elsewhere, a stagestruck girl finds life is more Shakespearean than even she imagines; while Tessa, a young country woman with strange powers cannot foresee what will happen if she makes off with a plausible charmer. Munro's stories unravel layers of the past, and different versions of the truth: her characters learn that if you look too closely at anything - the past, the truth - it may crumble. Runaway is about the power and betrayals, and twists, of love, about lost children, lost chances. There is pain and desolation beneath the surface, like a needle in the heart, which makes them more powerful and compelling than anything she has written. Munro is a magician with words, but also with layers of life and emotion.

Review: Alice Munro has been accused of telling the same story over and over, and to a certain extent the characterization is true. Her subject matter is inevitably the vagaries of love between middle-aged people in some rural Canadian setting, trapped there by the combination of their desires and weaknesses. Or, if not love, then at least the mysteries of relationships as characters struggle to understand each other and themselves. But this thematic single-mindedness can hardly be considered a criticism considering Munro tells stories better than anybody else and with a level of precision matched by few. It would be like criticizing Shakespeare for writing about politics.

Runaway is no exception. The stories take place throughout Canada--northern Ontario, the Prairies, the West Coast, Stratford--and feature women and men drifting in and out of each other's orbits, pulled by forces they don't understand. In "Runaway," a woman considers leaving her husband with the help of a neighbor, but the husband has other plans. In "Chance," a woman leaves her life behind in a quest for a man she met on a train crossing the country. Their intertwined lives play out through two more stories, "Soon" and "Silence," but the path they follow is as unpredictable to the reader as it is to them. In "Trespasses," a small town's women dream of escaping their lives only to find themselves in lives they never imagined.

What really marks the stories is Munro's sense of mood. There's a sense of hidden menace or even violence everywhere in Runaway. It occasionally erupts, but always in surprising and unexpected ways, and with unintended consequences. Munro may be an old-fashioned storyteller, but she understands chaos theory well enough. The same story? Sure. But it's a damn good one. --Peter Darbyshire, Amazon.ca

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Title: Runaway
Publisher: Chatto & Windus
Binding: Hardcover
Book Condition: Good

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