Reading Alice Munro’s Breakthrough Books

A Suite in Four Voices

J.R. (Tim) Struthers, Ailsa Cox, Corinne Bigot, Catherine Sheldrick Ross

Hardback (Forthcoming)

This engaging volume provides an authoritative assessment of the middle period in the career of the widely-read, Nobel Prize-winning short story writer Alice Munro

  • Provides an authoritative assessment of the all-important middle period in the career of the widely read Nobel Prize winning short story writer Alice Munro, a canonical figure in contemporary literature
  • Provides in-depth analysis of Munro's four successive breakthrough collections beginning with her sixth title The Progress of Love (1986) through Friend of My Youth (1990) and Open Secrets (1994) to The Love of a Good Woman (1998), thereby addressing a major gap in Munro criticism and, by extension, in all short story criticism
  • Examines a range of literary and cultural elements that inform each volume, paying careful attention to form, technique and style in particular stories as well as discussing how individual stories talk to one another within a collection
  • Brings together the different yet fully complementary perspectives of four long-engaged readers of Munro – two from Canada and two from Europe – who create a wholly unique and highly engaging conversation in four voices about what reading Munro means in the 21st century
  • Offers a finely orchestrated, exciting new model for how criticism can be collectively written

What in terms of Alice Munro’s creative artistry and creative power allowed her to become the first and only short story writer, the first and only Canadian, and just the thirteenth woman in history to win the Nobel Prize in Literature? And exactly when during Munro’s career did her artistry and power advance to ensure that she would earn such world-wide renown? The answers lie in studying the boldly innovative yet greatly under-examined group of her four mid-career breakthrough books. Our volume therefore provides a carefully orchestrated analysis of Munro’s subtle yet potent handling of form, technique and style both within individual stories and across these special collections. Reading Alice Munro’s Breakthrough Books: A Suite in Four Voices not only addresses a significant vacancy in Munro criticism – and, by extension, in all short story criticism – but, equally importantly, offers an exciting new model for how criticism can be collectively written.

Introduction: Catch and Release – Alice Munro and ‘the human palimpsest’, Robert Thacker

Seeing in Circles: The Fierce Originality of The Pro​gress of Love (1986), J.R. (Tim) Struthers

1. Welcome to My House!

2. Epic Inclusiveness in ‘The Progress of Love’

3. Verbal Play in ‘Lichen’

4. Ways of Knowing and Ways of Being in ‘Monsieur les Deux Chapeaux’

5. Did You Enjoy Your Visit?

‘The Old Order Changeth’: Change, Renovation and Modernity in Friend of My Youth (1990), Ailsa Cox

1. Looking Through Binoculars: The Short Story Genre and Moments of Change

2. Textual Instability in ‘Differently’

3. Approaching the First Three Stories

4. The Coda: ‘Wigtime’

5. Reading Across a Short Story Collection

The Art of Misreading; or, The Driving Force of Misunderstanding: Open Secrets (1994), Corinne Bigot

1. Introducing a Dark Collection

2. ‘Open Secrets’: Death by Landscape

3. Approaching the First Three Stories

4. ‘Vandals’ as Coda: On (Not) Reading Signs

5. The Art of Misreading

Rereading The Love of a Good Woman (1998), Catherine Sheldrick Ross

1. Introduction: ‘An Extra Dimension to Life’

2. ‘The Love of a Good Woman’: ‘The Book Had Just Shifted This Much’

3. ‘Jakarta’: ‘A Place of Their Own’

4. ‘Cortes Island’: Sources and Transformations

5. What Ordinary Readers Say about Reading The Love of a Good Woman

Works Consulted


Contributor Biographies


J.R. (Tim) Struthers taught full-time at the University of Guelph in Guelph, Ontario, Canada, from 1985 until 2022. He has edited some thirty volumes of theory, criticism, autobiography, short stories and poetry, including the companion volumes Alice Munro Country and Alice Munro Everlasting (2020).

Ailsa Cox is Emerita Professor of Short Fiction at Edge Hill University, UK. She is the author of Writing Short Stories (2005; 2nd ed., 2016) and Alice Munro (2004). Her own short fiction has appeared in journals including Katherine Mansfield Studies (2010, 2022).

Corinne Bigot is Maîtresse de Conférences of Postcolonial Literatures at Université Toulouse Jean Jaurès, France. She is the author of Alice Munro, les silences de la nouvelle (2014) and, with Catherine Lanone, Sunlight and Shadow, Past and Present: Alice Munro’s Dance of the Happy Shades (2014).

Catherine Sheldrick Ross was until her death Professor Emerita in the Faculty of Information and Media Studies at Western University in London, Ontario, Canada. Her previous work included The Pleasures of Reading: A Booklover’s Alphabet (2014) and Alice Munro: A Double Life (1992).

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