Has it ever happened to you that a book is so understated you’re certain you’ll forget it easily, only to have it haunt you often? Have you ever went thought a slow re-evaluation of a book over time? I can only remember feeling it once before, with Gillespie and I, which I initially dismissed as too long and slow, but was still ardently discussing months afterwards.
I’m going through that process with Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage. It’s a collection of short-stories about unimportant people with unimpressive lives and initially I just couldn’t understand the purpose of it all. It’s all about the details in this book, but it’s about them I’m still thinking about.
You could just as easily argue that little or nothing happens in these stories, or that too much happens, and I’m inclined to think that it take a great writer to pull that off successfully. The seemingly mundane events that Munro focuses on can seem very inconsequential when you first read about them, and yet they are the same events that make your own world turn: small-town pasts often comes back to haunt new cosmopolitans, a one-night stand could become the biggest single memory of a life, it’s hard when the partner of a good friend is a jerk, etc.
Munro is an expert at capturing the small lives that she writes about, but in this case small lives do not equal sweetness or fluff, on the contrary, most stories leave a bitter taste in your mouth. There’s a vaguely melancholic feel about all of them, a sense of disappointment and disillusionment. It’s only now, almost 3 weeks after I finished the book that I recognise just how complex each story was. It reminds me of Austen’s quote about her bits of ivory.
Just a small shout-out to the last story in the book, “The Bear Came Over the Mountain“, the basis of the movie “Away From Her“, and probably my favorite story of the nine. You can read it in The New Yorker online.