Somewhere in between the unbearably muggy days, weekend daytrips, going back to Canada for a visit, and coaching Japanese junior high kids for the English speech contest (success! we brought home a trophy), my stack of books has been growing but none of them seem to be getting finished. This clearly has to something to do with the aforementioned summer busyness, but it also has something to do with me choosing to read two collections of short stories in a row.
I do not hate short stories, of course. I do, however, find that when reading several in a row, I tire of constantly needing to restart in a new setting, with unfamiliar characters and situations. Reading one or two occasionally is a nice change of pace from novels; repeating this process all the way through one or more volumes of short stories causes me to feel like I’m being jolted around a lot as a reader. At least, this is my experience. I prefer to immerse myself in one world for long enough to grow to love it and be sad to leave it.
That being said, Alice Munro’s Runaway is fantastic. It follows the lives of various women, all dealing in some way with running away (in case the title wasn’t obvious enough). Some of the stories are incredibly sad, some are, for me, personally relatable (especially as several are set in small-town, rural southwestern Ontario); all are concisely articulated and tinted with a bit of longing, regret, and bittersweet memory. She has a knack for capturing simple human stories and emotions in a completely satisfying way. Definitely a worthwhile piece of Can Lit to check out. If you’re not convinced, this article does a good job of highlighting this “underappreciated” writer’s merits.
I followed this up with Susanna Clarke’s Ladies of Grace Adieu in search of a lighter, more satirical tone, and also because I was a huge fan of Clarke’s debut novel but had not yet gotten around to reading this companion collection.
Unfortunately, I’m sure I would have enjoyed this romp through Faerie and 19th century England much more if I hadn’t just exhausted my patience for short stories. A few of the same characters appear as in Jonathan Strange, and Clarke shows her talent for capturing different voices and styles through a myriad of narrators, each with a unique voice. I particularly enjoyed some of the darker bits which, unfortunately, I would write about in greater detail had I not left my copy at my parents’ house in Canada. My recommendation: if you like 19th century pastiche, magic, whimsical characters, Austen-y social commentary and a blend of the historic and the fantastic, give it a read yourself.