‘Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage’ – Alice Munro: The Woman, a spectacular human being

First of all, I confess that I was never attracted to short stories, not even when it belong to writers whose novels I devoured from the first cover to the last. But I couldn’t ignore the short stories of Alice Munro, who brought this literature genre to the spotlight. That’s how I came to “Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage”.

 

About the author  

Alice Munro is a short story writer born in Canada, in 1931. She graduated in English and Journalism of the University of Western Ontario. The writer has published thirteen collections of stories, a novel and two volumes of Selected Stories. Throughout her career, she has received many literary awards, of which I will specify a small part: three of Canada’s Governor General’s Literary Awards, two Giller Prizes, the Rea Award for Short Story, the Lannan Literary Award, England’s W. H. Smith Literary Award, National Book Critics Circle Award, the Man Booker International Prize, culminating, in 2013, with the Nobel Prize for Literature. The Nobel prize motivation states that Alice Munro is “master of the contemporary short story”. Currently, the writer lives in Port Hope, Canada, on Lake Ontario.  (Alice Munro | Penguin Random House)

 

About the book

The volume “Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage” contains nine stories, all centered on a prominent female figure around whom the action revolves. One by one, a fragment of her life enters the spotlight with connections to a relevant past or future. Munro’s woman will not be memorable for her beauty or other physical characteristics. Nothing like this will stay in your mind at the end of the book. In fact, it is striking how, throughout the entire volume, knowing so many women, my imagination did not “embody” any of them, the physical descriptions being almost irrelevant. I lived, however, intensely, with each of them, because Alice Munro walked me through a dizzying emotional spectrum, painfully dissecting the woman’s soul and mind. Thus, I found out or I just wondered – what she feels, why she decided this, what hurts her, what she wants, what she hopes for, what she seeks, how she fights, how she accepts, why she is silent or resigned, why she loves… I have met simple, humble, complex women, in suffering, sometimes strong, but all of them having an infinite inner universe. I met disarticulated couples, I witnessed absurd dialogues, some of it revolted me, others saddened me.

The families presented in the book have their own mechanism of functioning or, more appropriate said, of dysfunctional. Their stories reminded me of the first sentence of Lev Tolstoy’s novel, “Anna Karenina”: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” This explains, perhaps, why the abandonment of the family (the divorce or the departure, often for good, from the parental home) is a recurring theme in Munro’s stories.

Unable to be happy in a relationship, the woman will find a valve of survival, whether she has a real foundation or it’s just her imagination that will shape a refuge for her soul. Adultery is a rather imagined one, but it is also an element that will return several times throughout the nine stories. Whether it is spontaneous, committed or simply desired, the adultery will always take place behind the scene, cause in front of the scene, the life must be lived in accordance with the requirements / prejudices of the society.

I find very interesting the way Munro’s women live with the nostalgia of an event that happened only in their imagination or that was remodeled in their memory, in accordance with their own needs. Selective affective memory is an instinct for self-preservation.

The hazard is often felt and the famous phrase “Carpe diem” is mentioned in different conjunctures that cause different feelings. In one way or another, each heroine is in one or more of the roulette’s phases that spins around confusingly and continuously – hateship, friendship, courtship, loveship, marriage. In the book, this succession of phases appears metaphorically in the form of an innocent game of children. But games have the power to change destinies.

Death, one of the central themes of the stories, shocks by the rough approach, devoid of spiritual connotations or euphemisms. The Great Passing Away is presented to us in its entire spectrum, along with the helplessness that accompanies it. “Hidden hopes, the escape from reality” – aren’t they normal in the fight against death? Is it possible for one to remain “respectable and stable” in front of it? And that’s how the theme of suicide appears in the scene, reminding us that the angles from which a phenomenon can be viewed are infinite. And because we are talking about original perspectives, I must say that I found really special the message that a bit of hope can have a negative impact on the person who, previously, had accepted a relentless destiny. It made me think that it’s in human’s nature to turn a “bit” of hope into a great expectation.

Alice Munro raises for debate, also, the issue of the choices made in life and the subsequent regrets, emphasizing the wrong tendency of people to idealize the course of life in the hypothesis of making other decisions. In fact, “that other life simply [would have involved] another kind of search, having its own traps and successes”.

About one of the characters, the writer says – “this woman had inside of her the spark of life”. But I think all her female characters are animated by this spark. If I made you curious to meet them, sit comfortably in an armchair, next to a glass of tonic gin. A book is … Lust For Flying.

 

  • To the author:

Alice, your women make up an infinite Universe of emotions that I loved to discover!

 

Quotes

  • “There comes a time when ugly and beautiful serve pretty much the same purpose, when anything you look at is just a peg to hang the unruly sensations of your body on, and the bits and pieces of your mind.”
  • “The unspeakable excitement you feel when a galloping disaster promises to release you from all responsibility for your own life.”
  • “Books seemed to me not like things bought in a store at all, but like presences in the house just as the trees outside the window were not plants but presences rooted in the ground.”
  • “There was little harm any religion could do nowadays.”
  • “This was shameless – the opportune praying of a nonbeliever.”
  • “Intelligent means cold, for a woman.”

Read more book reviews by Raluca Neagu here.

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