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Short-story ​collections continue to be the bane of the publishing world – as Alice Munro herself puts it in a story here, they seem to ‘diminish the book’s authority, making the author seem like somebody who is just hanging on to the gates of literature, rather than safely settled inside’.
Well, the septuangenarian Munro is undoubtedly safely inside; widely considered among the best in the business, earlier this year she won the International Man Booker prize. This latest collection is, as you might expect from the mocking tenor of the title, largely concerned with the elusive nature of happiness, a state of mind that, amid the chaotic everyday inhabited by Munro’s characters, is impossible to fathom or control. It starts horrifically, with a woman in therapy following the murder of her three children by her demented husband. Just when you think there can be no possible relief, Munro throws in a deft, final redemptive sentence that’s the equivalent of opening a window on a stifling, locked-up-room.
Many stories reverberate with the aftershock of some grotesque or traumatic childhood event, from the son who falls down a ravine in Deep-Holes and the consequences this has for his mother, to the woman in Child’s Play who is forced to acknowledge the guilt she has refused to bear for the death of a fellow pupil at summer camp. Munro’s prose is surprisingly rangy, almost giving the impression of artlessness, yet there’s nothing remotely careless about these effortless composition that run so dangerously close to real life and which, like touching an electric fence, jolt you violently alive.
(Claire Allfree)

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