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Mushy Middle but Firm Finale
am 12. Juli 2000
After the first fairly gripping story, the fiction quickly falls into some Alice Mundane prose and it seems like it's going to be that way for the long haul. The author seems to have forgotten the necessity of plot in several stories, and the reader is left dragging along to the end only because of confidence in an otherwise accomplished writer. "Cortes Island" has some worthwhile character development, but "Jakarta" and "Save the Reaper" feel like directionless wandering, as if Munro is playing the grandson's alien chase game with her story development: see a possibility, grab onto it there for a while and see where it goes and then grab onto another. While this technique can certainly be successful and give the image of "living" or "evolution" fiction, it doesn't always work, and these three stories prove it.
Furthermore, the "shocking" action of her characters is not believable enough because, despite all the drawn-out development, the reader still can't see the justification in the character's minds. Sure, everyone does the unexpected sometimes, but if all Munro's characters do that, we lose the idea of the story. Pauline, for example, in "The Children Stay," seems to feel too much devotion and affection for her children to be able to just forget them completely for a wild night of sex that leaves her sore, even though they interrupt her life. Most women find that children interfere with the professional, artistic, social (etc) lives they had before becoming mothers, so what sets Pauline apart to actually be able to leave the girls forever for a romance that turns out to be a fling anyway? Munro didn't prepare us enough for her decision, and the story is weakened.
The real genius of her work starts to emerge again, though, with "Rich as Stink." A mature little girl and her childish mother create an interesting role reversal which must meet its limits finally in a powerful way, when nature takes charge. This story feels glued together with real intrigue, although the purpose and development of the minor characters could have been improved.
"Before the Change" is reminiscent of Munro's previous work, with a letter-writing young woman revealing her story to her (ex) lover. Here we see Munro's capability with powerful character development and loose links which neatly connect in the end.
Certainly the finest story in the collection is the last-- "My Mother's Dream" was so intricately handled it is worth an award by itself. Munro provides, finally, a more appropriate number of characters for a short story and is able to present and enrich them throughout the work effectively. She brings us into the world of the family here, pulling us in with suspense and connection, making us truly care about the people and hope for them and with them and get completely involved. Finally, as is true of the entire collection as well, Munro does not disappoint us in the end.
Just when you were about to say, "She's losing her knack for the great short story form," she whacks you with three whoppers and whispers, "My dear, I am never too old to tell a great tale."