Picks and Pans Review: Runaway

UPDATED 11/15/2004 at 01:00 AM EST Originally published 11/15/2004 at 01:00 AM EST

STORIES

by Alice Munro

CRITIC'S CHOICE

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One of Alice Munro's specialities is the short story with the long view. She sets characters in motion, then jumps ahead years or decades to show how their actions ripple through a lifetime. In "Tricks," part of her latest collection, a shy young nurse misreads a chance encounter, only to discover in old age that it was mistaken identity, rather than rejection, that set her on a path to small-town spinsterhood. "Passion" recounts a woman's return to the lake house where, 40 years earlier, she betrayed an eager young suitor with his doomed alcoholic brother. In "Trespasses," a birth mother suddenly appears years later to pry open the dark past of a teenager's adopted family. At the heart of the book are three linked stories that follow Juliet, a classics scholar turned television presenter, from her first love through late middle age. Desperate to understand why her grown daughter left for a cultish community, never to be heard from again, Juliet sifts through her own past looking for the failures of love or spiritual sustenance that drove the daughter away. Munro is wise in the ways of human emotion, and her stories are so rich in subplots, asides and ancillary characters that even a tale of less than 50 pages feels as rounded as a novel.

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