Monday, October 3, 2011

Review: Dance of the Happy Shades by Alice Munro

Reviewed by Christina

Published: 1968

It's about: This is Alice Munro's first collection of short stories. It has several recurring elements: fox farming, teenage humiliation, a town called Jubilee. The stories all take place in rural or suburban Canada.
The collection is named for the last story, which gets its title from a beautiful piece of music from Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice.

I thought: I've been curious about Alice Munro for a while, since several choosy readers I know have praised her. I have to agree with them- she is a fantastic writer. She has this way of expressing, beautifully, thoughts and feelings that I thought were unique to me. (Check out the favorite excerpt below for an example.) I love when I get that kind of brain-wave connection with an author.

I think one thing that lets her writing stand out is the understatement of plot. There are a few surprises in Happy Shades, but most of the stories describe fairly mundane events. The characters, and especially the relationships between them, really shine. In this way, and in her focus on poor, working folk, Munro reminds me a little of Raymond Carver. Though she's not such a minimalist. And, to be totally honest, I haven't read much Raymond Carver so I could be totally off with that connection.

Despite my respect for Alice Munro and my desire to read more of her stories, I don't really feel very excited about this collection. I thought it was excellent and I wouldn't change it in any way. So why don't I have the urge to shout it from the rooftops and recommend it to everyone I know?

Verdict: Despite my own uncharacteristic lack of enthusiasm, I really believe this collection is beyond reproach. So Stick it on the shelf!

Reading Recommendations: I think this would be a good one to pick up right after you've finished something with disappointingly poor writing.

Warnings: nothing I can remember

Favorite excerpts: "Oh, wasn't it strange, how in your imagination, when you stood up for something, your voice rang, people started, abashed; but in real life they all smiled in rather a special way and you saw that what you had really done was serve yourself up as a conversational delight for the next coffee party." (from "The Shining Houses")

What I'm reading next: Wallflower by Holly-Jane Rahlens