Alice Munro is a master at inventing whole worlds in 35 pages. In these eight short stories, set in Australia and Canada from the 1850s to the present, she brings a depth of wisdom to her characters and their communities in a succinct fashion that many novelists would envy.
The narrators are women, sometimes eccentric, sometimes love-struck or betrayed, always astute. The young patient in "Carried Away," for example, flees from an affair with a married doctor and ends up wiser but alone. Other characters abandon husbands for lovers, or lovers for the uncertainty of starting over in a faraway city. Though men make appearances in these stories, it is the women who command control of their own lives. Even a contrived plot or two don't diminish Munro's wit, intelligence and grace or detract from the subtle insight of her characters in this sparkling collection. (Knopf, $23)