The Love of a Good Woman by Alice Munro

Winner of the 1998 Giller Prize

Winner of the 1998 National Book Critics’ Circle Top Fiction Award

Winner of the 1998 Trillium Award

Winner of the 1999 Canadian Booksellers Association Libris Fiction Book of the Year

New York Times Book Review Best Book – 1998

Shortlisted for the 1998 Roger’s Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize

Selected for Canada Reads 2004

Alice Munro is almost universally known as one of, if not the single, greatest living writer(s) in English and a true master of the short story. She has won countless awards, 3 Governor-Generals, 2 Gillers, numerous O. Henry awards, Commonwealth prizes, Trillium prizes, and the Man Booker International Prize. The only prize missing from her resume is the Nobel Prize which will hopefully one day be bestowed upon Ms. Munro if the Nobel committee ever gets past its Eurocentric mindset. I have read several Munro books and I can say without any hesitation that The Love of a Good Woman is the best of what I have seen. Like many of Munro’s later works, this book’s stories has a wide  array of characters ranging in age from young adolescence to old age. We are taken deep into Munro county (also known as Huron County) in her typical and magical Southern Ontario Gothic style. This collection, perhaps more than any of her others, showcases Alice Munro’s ability to write so subtly that without even realizing, you as a reader are drawn into the lives of these seemingly ordinary people experiencing extraordinary circumstances.

The Love of a Good Woman is a very fitting title for this collection. While it is the first story, or arguably, novella,  in the book, the title describes the overall themes of almost all of the stories. Whether it is a widow loving memories of her dead husband, a daughter loving her parents, a nurse caring for her patient, or a caretaker loving someone else’s child, the idea of a woman’s love permeates this collection down to its epicenter.

The stories themselves are filled with Munro’s classic reserved style. She never gives you all the details; like many great classic story tellers Munro does not lay all of her cards out on the table at once. Little pieces are given and all of the details unfold before your eyes in a natural course of events. Often times the narration is not completely linear and the characters lives are revealed in bits and pieces while the story’s endings quietly approach.

My favorite story in the collection is the second-to-last one, “Before the Change.” Like many of Munro’s stories following this collection, this piece looks at what happens when old world values meet new world sensibilities at at time when society is not ready to accept this change. “Before the Change” centres on a young woman who comes home from college and stays with her father. Through a series of letters to her professor boyfriend it is revealed that her doctor father is performing abortions which are illegal at the time this is set. This story best demonstrates my previous point about the subtle narration guiding you. At first we are led to believe that the father has a cold disregard for his daughter but as we learn more and more details and additional graphic details are revealed we see what is really going on; and, like all of the other pieces, when you finish this story you will see why the “love of a good woman” is the underlying theme. Other stories, notably, “Cortes Island”, “Rich as Stink”, “My Mother’s Dream”, and the title story, exemplify Munro’s ability to topically look at relationships but brutally dissect them with the understated tone of a master writer.

This book was an absolute pleasure to read. The amount of critical acclaim this book has received is without a doubt well deserved. The Love of a Good Woman exemplifies what makes Canadian Literature unique in the wider canon of English literature. This book looks at the family, relationships, and of course being the eternal Northrop Frye apologist that I am, this book exposes our insular need to play the victim and survive in the Canadian societal vacuum. I was always amazed at the lack of attention that Hollywood has paid to Alice Munro. This of course changed slightly when Sarah Polley adapted “The Bear Came Over the Mountain” into the Oscar nominated film Away From Her. From what I have read the story “Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage” is being adapted into a film to be released next year starring Julianne Moore. There are at least 3 stories in this collection that could easily be made into great films. The Love of a Good Woman has earned a place in my Top 10 favorite list; not an easy feat.

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One response

  1. I have yet to read anything by Munro but I really should. This was a great review and it sounds like a great collection.

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