Alice Munro might be the reason I hate short stories. I mean, she’s the best short story writer ever – perfect detail, brilliant dialogue, the amazing ability to move forward and back in time in seamless slips of paragraphs – but with this incredible talent comes (my) the awful realization that the story is only going to be 30 pages long. And that you want it to be 300. Which doesn’t even make sense because short stories have a certain something-something in the punchiness of the plot, the pace of things, that tells you that it can’t – shouldn’t – be sustained for more than 30 or 40 pages, and yet, such is the brilliance of the characters and the complexity of their motivations that I can’t help but be just a little furious that they’re capped at being *short*.
In any case: it’s a dark collection. Murder, betrayal, knives and cheating and cold train trips. The last and titular story feels a little out of place in the collection in terms of time and setting – it’s historical fiction and set in Sweden/Denmark/Germany – but it maintains thematic resonance with preoccupations of the extent to which women will subsume their own desires and opportunities for the men in their lives, or that women are dependent (to the point of great violence) on men, or the propensity for violence that lives in each of us just waiting for particular – though not necessarily extraordinary – circumstances to come out.
Anyway. I have some ambition to read all of Alice Munro’s collections next year, but then I realize that I have to take several days off from reading after each story because I find them just so intense. So maybe I won’t. Or maybe I’ll read a story a week or something. It’s a hard life for a reader when the challenge is how to space out brilliance so as to not squander it or be overwhelmed by its dazzling beauty.