Alice Munro, the Chekhov of modern times- I ingest her stories and can’t get enough. Each collection brings something fresh while still exhibiting classic Munro storytelling- significantly unique character details, impromptu time shifts, delicate symbolism… and this collection, one I’ve been saving to read, delivers all that I’ve learned to expect from Munro and more.
This collection includes 9 stories, including stories about children, middle-aged husbands and wives, and aging 70 year olds. The title defines the theme of the collection: the complexities of human relationships, and the ways in which one significant relationship can change throughout a lifetime.
The first short story, taking the same name as the collection, involves two story lines converging at an accidental point. Johanna, the protagonist of the story, sells furniture and purchases new clothing in preparation for her upcoming move. She feels embarrassed buying nice clothes, an imposter in the world of romantic preparation and feminine preparedness. Johanna tells the store clerk that she is purchasing the new clothing for her wedding day, and admits to the readers that she isn’t exactly sure she’ll be married after all. This ambiguous opening of the story expands as we learn that Johanna was a maid for Mr. McCauley, a man connected closely to Johanna’s new beau, Ken. We learn from Mr. McCauley, in his astounded fury that Johanna has abandoned him and that Ken has swindled him, reveals that Ken is his son-in-law, Mr. McCauley’s daughter having died years ago. Mr. McCauley suspects that Ken persuaded Johanna into selling furniture to make money off of Mr. McCauley’s back, and grows angry. While Johanna travels to her expected new life, Munro introduces the second part of the story: that of two teenage girls playing a game of which they have no idea of the consequences. Sabrina, Ken’s daughter, and her best friend Edith, watched Johanna, an awkward, ill-looking woman, trip over her crush on Ken, and decided to intercept her letters to Ken and respond as f they were him. Johanna, then, is moving for a life that Ken has not himself orchestrated but which has been constructed by two young girls obsessed with the unknowns of love, only as two innocents can be. Johanna arrives and finds Ken miserably ill; although he has no idea why Johanna is there, he is too sick to argue. This acquiescence carries through the rest of the story in which Johanna, believing the two of them are in love and on the same page, falls into a life with Ken, who decides to go along with the strange situation because of Johanna’s financial stability. The two of them end up married with a son, which the readers find out by Edith reading a newspaper announcement. The story concludes with Edith noting: “You must not ask, it is forbidden for us to know- what fate has in store for me, or for you-.” This is a story that involves guilt, the malleability of human relationships, and the insecurity of love.
The second story in the collection, ‘Floating Bridge’, captures one day in the life of Jinny and Neal, a married couple traversing the difficulties of Jinny’s cancer diagnosis. On this specific day, the two pick up Helen, the couple’s house girl, from her job at a hospital and decide to drop her off at home. Jinny watches as her husband flirts with Helen, unabashedly, and feels a sense of guilt that she knows what Neal does not: her cancer is in remission, and the death each of them anticipated may very well be delayed. Jinny feels a desperate guilt watching her husband flirt with this young girl, feels responsible for dashing his hope for a new love. As they arrive at Helen’s house, Jinny decides to stay in the car as Neal and Helen go in for dinner. She ruminates on her secret, and feels an overwhelming urge to leave. She removes herself from the car and explores the cornfield out back, eventually getting lost. Ricky, Helen’s cousin, finds Jinny in the cornfield and takes her to his favorite spot in the woods- a floating bridge. There, Ricky kisses Jinny before returning her to Neal, and the story ends with this unlikely pair talking. Jinny nearly laughs at the “grace” of her being saved from her illness, and the ironic way in which this, too, is a curse: “What she felt was a lighthearted sort of compassion, almost like laughter. A swish of tender hilarity, getting the better of all her sores and hollows, for the time given.” What I love the most about this story, and many of Munro’s other stories, is something I call the shrug-factor. Although nothing is as expected in this story, although we’d like to see Jinny and Neal rejoicing in her remission, Jinny still manages to find compassion, to feel a ‘such is life’ shrug, a hilarity, that prompts her into a youthful kiss.
The next story, ‘Family Furnishings,’ tells of a relationship between a niece and an aunt. The narrator, the niece of the story, grows up admiring and wondering about her aunt Alfrida, a big-city woman who has never married. Eventually, Alfrida is ostracized from the narrator’s family for her romantic involvement with a married man; however, when the narrator goes to college close to Alfrida’s city, Alfrida attempts to reconnect with her niece. The narrator feels a sense of embarrassment for her old life, now that college has increased her artistic sensibilities and has refined her manners: “That was the kind of lie that I hoped never to have to tell again, the contempt I hoped never to have to show, about the things that really mattered to me. And in order to have to do that, I would pretty well have to stay clear of the people I used to know.” The narrator attempts to put off her visit with Alfrida, but eventually gives in and visits Alfrida and Bill for dinner. At this dinner, Alfrida retells the story of how her mother died- while she was holding a lamp, the liquid blew up and she died of burns a few days after. Alfrida tells the narrator that the hospital wouldn’t let her see her mother after the burns- “‘You’re just better off not to see her. You would not want to see her, if you knew what she looks like now. You wouldn’t want to remember her this way.’ ‘But you know what I said? I remember saying it. I said, But she would want to see me. She would want to see me.'” This sentiment, this sentence, sticks with the narrator, long after the narrator avoids visiting Alfrida again. The narrator becomes a writer, and uses this story, this exact sentence, in one of her stories. Alfrida avoids speaking to the narrator, and dies, admitting to the narrator’s father that the story upset her. At Alfrida’s funeral, the narrator meets Alfrida’s estranged daughter, who is more explicit in her contempt for the narrator. This resentment leads the narrator to reminisce on the day the had dinner with Alfrida and Bill: “When I had walked for over an hour, I saw a drugstore that was open. I went in and had a cup of coffee. The coffee was reheated, black and bitter- its taste was medicinal, exactly what I needed. I was already feeling relieved, and now I began to feel happy. Such happiness, to be alone. To see the hot late-afternoon light on the sidewalk outside, the branches of a tree just out in leaf, throwing their skimpy shadows. To hear from the back of the shop the sounds of the ball game that the man who had serve me was listening to on the radio. I did not think of the story I would make about Alfrida- not of that in particular- but of the work I wanted to do, which seemed more like grabbing something out of the air than constructing stories. The cries of the crowd came to me like big heartbeats, full of sorrows. Lovely formal-sounding waves, with their distant, almost inhuman assent and lamentation. This was what I wanted, this was what I thought I had to pay attention to, this was how I wanted my life to be.’ I feel a strong connection with this story, especially for the imposter syndrome that the narrator so obviously feels.
The next story, ‘Comfort,’ is one of my favorites in the collection. Near the beginning of the story, Nina, the protagonist, finds her husband, Lewis, dead in their bedroom of suicide. We learn, inch by inch, that Lewis planned on committing suicide, and Nina was aware. Lewis, it turns out, was dying of Parkinson’s, and his slow death mortified him. There was no pride in a slow death, especially for a man who had already been mortified by his embarrassment in his career. Lewis taught science at a high school, and was mocked by his students and his student’s parents for his disbelief and hatred for Christianity and creationism. Steadily, students began harassing Lewis for his disbelief, enough for Lewis to dismiss himself from his teaching position. As readers get this necessary back story, we also learn that Nina, at home with the dead body, is desperately searching for a suicide note from her husband. She grows disappointed, depressed, that there was no goodbye from a man who had carefully calculated his departure from her world- “It was beyond her to think how she could live, with only her old pacific habits. Cold and muted, stripped of him.” The next segment of the story involves Nina and Ed Shore, the mortician that deals with Lewis’ body. Nina grows incredibly frantic when the mortician’s office asks her about caskets, as Lewis wanted a cremation. Ed Shore, a family friend and local mortician, delivers Lewis’ ashes and apologizes. Her interactions with Ed Shore remind her of a prior interaction between Lewis and Kitty, Ed’s wife; the two of them had argued religion while Nina and Ed snuck out to the backyard and kissed. Lewis never knew, and Nina never reflected on it. Ed ends up giving Nina a note that was found in Lewis’ pajamas, the suicide note Nina so desperately wanted to find. And yet still, the contents of the letter disappoint her, as Lewis still focuses on his career and exploitation of Christianity rather than their love. Nina takes Lewis’ ashes and stops aside the road- “She got the box open and put her hand into the cooling ashes and tossed or dropped them- with other tiny recalcitrant bits of the body- among those roadside plants. Doing this was like wading and then throwing yourself into the lake for the first icy swim, in June. A sickening shock at first, then amazement that you were still moving, lifted up on a stream of steely devotion- calm above the surface of your life, surviving, though the pain of the cold continued to wash into your body.” What a fucking ending. Again, we have the Alice Munro shrug, the dispassionate and passionate question of what to d next. Nina, despite her disappointment, despite her loss, will still wade into the water, will still continue moving.
‘Nettles,’ the next story, is another of my top three favorites from this collection. The beginning of the story, only three paragraphs long, show the narrator visiting her friend Sunny and Sunny’s husband Johnston. Munro then shifts to the past, the narrator growing up with a boy named Mike McCallum, the son of the well-digger in town. The two children fell in love, playing war with other children, dirtying themselves all summer long. And then, unexpectedly, Mike leaves: “Future absence I accepted- it was just that I had no idea, till Mike disappeared, of what absence could be like. How all my own territory would be altered, as if a landslide had gone through it and skimmed off all meaning except loss of Mike.” Munro then changes the time again to define the narrator’s relationship with Sunny. The two women were pregnant at the same time during the narrator’s first marriage, and formed a time-specific friendship based on growing belies and an interest in literature. We learn that the narrator separated from her husband not for any specific reason, and that her two daughters have stopped visiting her. The narrator admits no guilt, even reveals that she may be happier in this independent life- “When I came back, alone, I gathered up all reminders of them- a cartoon the younger one had drawn, a Glamour magazine that the older one had bought- and stuffed them into a garbage bag. And I did more or less the same thing every time I thought of them- I snapped my mind shut. There were miseries that I could bear- those connected with men. And other miseries- those connected with children- that I could not. I went back to living as I had lived before they came. I stopped cooking breakfast and went out every morning to get coffee and fresh rolls at the Italian deli. The idea of being so far freed from domesticity enchanted me. But I noticed now, as I hadn’t done before, the look on some of the faces of the people who sat every morning on the stools behind the window or at the sidewalk tables- people for whom this was in no way a fine and amazing thing to be doing but the stale habit of a lonely life.” There’s an admission of something here, but I don’t think i’s guilt- I think it’s of happiness. It’s an awareness that that happiness may fade, but for now, it exists. Back to the present time, the narrator arrives at her old friend Sunny’s, and finds, incredibly, her childhood lover Mike at the sink, a good friend of Johnston’s. The narrator’s bewilderment turns into an ecstatic and painfully impatient desire that she suspects will not come true but still anticipates it- Mike is married, and she knows he will not come to her bed- and yet still, she waits for the door to open. The next day, she and Mike decide to golf rather than eat breakfast; again, the narrator longs for him, romanticizing their relationship, even in the downpour that follows. The two hide in the bushes of the golf course amongst the nettles, where they kiss and he tells her his secret: he accidentally killed his three-year old son by running him over. The narrator knows then that Mike will never be his any more than he has ever been, and that such a terrible accident had solidified his marriage in a way that he could not stray any further than a kiss. And the end of the story- “Well. It would be the same old thing, if we ever met again. Or if we didn’t. Love that was not usable, that knew its place. Not risking a thing yet staying alive as a sweet trickle, an underground resource.” -this rumination on their relationship- followed by a small paragraph that is itself a metaphor. “Those plants with the big pinkish-purple flowers are not nettles. I have discovered that they are called joe-pye weed. The stinging nettles that we must have got into are more insignificant plants, with a paler purple flower, and stalks wickedly outfitted with fine, fierce, skin-piercing and inflaming spines. Those would be present too, unnoticed, in all the flourishing of the waste meadow.” And aren’t these two final paragraphs one in the same? Aren’t they both noting that love, in any flavor it comes, matters? That it’s growing too, maybe not as quickly, maybe not as noticeable, but still there, next to you in the coffee shop?
‘Post and Beam,’ the following story, makes my heart ache. The opening of the story threw me off, and re-reading it now, it still doesn’t make much sense to me. The story, centered around Lorna, a married woman with a demanding husband and not much domestic freedom, shows her becoming romantically(?) interested in Lionel, her husband’s pupil at the college he works at. Brendan, the husband, sees academic and intellectual potential in Lionel, and Lorna sees intrigue. Lionel gives potential to Lorna’s otherwise scripted life, and her interest in him grows when he begins to write her poems in the mail (although these are never romantic or even about her). The crux of the story focuses on a visit from Polly, Lorna’s (we find out later) step sister. Polly, a country girl like Lorna used to be, has saved up money to visit Lorna in her new life, and Lorna, although she’s personally excited to see her childhood friend, grows nervous at her upcoming visit because of Brendan. It turns out that Lorna was right to be nervous; Polly’s first interaction with Brendan is a negative one in which she mocks the style of their home, which Brendan announces with a snobby pride to be the “Post and Beam” style of house that Polly, an unrefined farm girl, would know nothing about. Throughout Polly’s visit, Lorna is forced to balance her husband’s dislike for Polly and Polly’s own neediness. Polly reveals to Lorna just how bad things have gotten at home, and relates her angst that she has to stay and take care of the family while Lorna was blessed with freedom. We know, though, despite how we empathize with Polly’s misgivings, that Lorna’s life is not one of freedom but of transferred obligation- no longer to her relatives but to her husband. Lorna’s curiosity leads her to looking through Lionel’s apartment, attempting to learn more about this opportunity of newness in her life; she learns nothing about who he is, however, and grows frustrated at the emptiness of this, too. During Polly’s visit, Lorna and Brendan leave for a wedding, leaving Polly, in her already melancholy state, alone. On the way home, Lorna thinks about Polly and fully convinces herself that Polly has committed suicide while they’ve been gone, and her hanging body will be waiting for them upon their return. Munro spends multiple pages describing how sure Lorna is of this- “This is stupidity, this is melodrama, this is guilt. This will not have happened. But such things do happen. Some people founder, they are not helped in time. They are not helped at all. Some people are pitched into darkness. When they entered Stanley Park it occurred to her to pray. This was shameless- the opportune praying of a nonbeliever. The gibberish of let-it-not-happen, let-it-not-happen. Let it not have happened.” This part of the story especially resonates with me- I, too, have felt ashamed when I take to a desperate kind of prayer, the only prayer I’ve ever really known, to save something. Munro later describes this as an act of bargaining, and does not realize the repercussions to bargaining until years later. Upon their return, Lorna and Brendan find Polly in the backyard, perfectly fine, flirting with Lionel. Lorna feels shock, and a kind of disappointment; she had prepared herself, as best as she could, for a scene of tragedy. Ironically, for Lorna, the reality of Polly and Lionel together may be just as tragic. “What made more sense was that the bargain she was bound to was to go on living as she had been doing. The bargain was already in force. To accept what had happened and be clear about what would happen. Days and years and feelings much the same, except that the children would grow up, and there might be one or two more of them and they too would grow up, and she and Brendan would grow older and then old. It was not until now, not until this moment, that she had seen so clearly that she was counting on something happening, something that would change her life. She had accepted her marriage as one big change, but not as the last one. So, nothing now but what she or anybody could sensibly foresee. That was to be her happiness, that was what she had bargained for.” This was a much larger bargain than expected, then; one that ensnared and trapped her in the confines of no newness. The final note of the story reads: “It was a long time ago that this happened. In North Vancouver, when they lived in the Post and Beam house. When she was twenty-four years old, and new to bargaining.” This ending, a section break after the main storyline, is another classic Munro move. It delivers a retrospection, almost an omniscience, that tells us that life goes on after we leave Lorna in her heartbreaking jealousy and emptiness. What other bargains will Lorna face? The bargains we all do, and more.
Next, Munro takes us to another married couple: Meriel and Pierre. ‘What Is Remembered’ is a story, as one might expect, about memory- how slippery details can be, how desperate we can be to remember, and how vital certain memories are to one’s sustained happiness. The two of them, in the throes of married life, have not been in a hotel room together since their wedding night, and are faced with intimacy due to attending the funeral of Pierre’s best friend Jonas. The funeral is in a part of Canada close to Meriel’s old friend, Aunt Muriel (whom the protagonist is named after). Aunt Muriel is in a nursing home far away, and Meriel decides to use the geographical closeness to pay her a visit. Dr. Asher, an attendee of Jonas’ funeral, offers to drive Meriel there, which Pierre accepts to save him a drive. Meriel is struck by Dr. Asher’s willingness to take her places, perhaps something her own husband has failed to do. She’s struck, too, by Dr. Asher’s ability to entertain and speak with Aunt Muriel rather than looking away and letting Meriel handle the affair as Pierre and other men often do. The story spends a lot of time questioning what will happen between the two of them- we, like Meriel, are romanticizing this hook-up, expecting it to be a grandiose experience for her; instead, Meriel finds herself in an unremarkable apartment, probably used for many other of Dr. Asher’s women, and soon wakes up and disembarks on a ferry back home. The final pages of the story involve Meriel reflecting on how she will remember Dr. Asher: “The night on the ferry, during the time when she thought she was going to get everything straightened away, Meriel did nothing of the kind. What she had to go through was wave after wave of intense recollection. And this was what she would continue to go through- at gradually lengthening intervals- for years to come. She would keep picking up things she’d missed, and these would still jolt her. She would hear or see something again- a sound they made together, the sort of look that passed between them, of recognition and encouragement. A look that was in its way quite cold, yet deeply respectful and more intimate than any look that would pass between married people, or people who owed each other anything.” This description prompts the reader to acknowledge a truth- the short could bes sometimes exist in memory more fiercely and tragically and romantically than our ordinary realities. They are made more beautiful because of their brevity, their limitations. Years later, Pierre reads an announcement in the paper that reports Dr. Asher’s sudden and unpredicted death. His death leads her to think of their final goodbye, which, despite her years of recollecting she cannot remember: “How did they say good-bye then? Did they shake hands? She could not remember. But she heard his voice, the lightness and yet the gravity of the tone, she saw his resolute, merely pleasant face. She did not see how she could have suppressed it so successfully, for all this time. She had an idea that if she had not been able to do that, her life might have been different. How? She might not have stayed with Pierre. She might not have been able to keep her balance. There was another sort of life she could have had- which is not to say she would have preferred it.” Despite how desperately she clung to some of the memories of her night with Dr. Asher, she abandoned their goodbye in order to steady herself, to give her the strength to go back to her husband and live with no open end. Remembering their goodbye would have made the situation more tragic, more desperate. A vague goodbye until the ultimate goodbye- that would be best. Again, Munro details all the loves that come and go in our lives, the ones that weave together and weave apart, the ones we announce and the ones we keep secret.
‘Queenie,’ the next to last story in the collection, sort of flips the story of Lorna and Polly from ‘Post and Beam’. In ‘Queenie,’ we get the farm-girl narration in first person from Chrissy, who goes to visit her old step-sister Queenie in her big city apartment. Queenie’s real name is Lena, which Chrissy has to get used to calling her because of Stan’s, Queenie’s husband’s, dislike of the nickname. Like in ‘Post and Beam,’ Munro details a controlling and demanding husband, this one decades older than his young wife. We learn throughout the story, as we witness Stan’s slights toward his wife, that Queenie ran away with Stan when she turned 18 after working for he and his deceased wife. Chrissy’s family has written Queenie off permanently, and Chrissy is the only one that’s attempted to visit her. The readers remain unsure, as Chrissy does, if Queenie is too stupid to know that her husband is constantly berating and mocking her, or if she simply brushes it off to get by in sanity. Later, though, when the couple throws a birthday party, the abuse of Stan becomes undeniable. Queenie bakes a cake for the apartment building, Andrew, Stan’s apprentice, comes, everyone gets drunk, and Queenie puts the cake away for later as it was uneaten. When Stan asks for the cake a few days later, Queenie can’t find it, and Stan, in an absolutely horrific and stubborn way, berates her, claiming that she lied to him and that she gave the cake to Andrew, who she was flirting with the night of the party. Stan hits and chokes Queenie in front of Chrissy, and refuses to speak to her until Queenie tells ‘the truth.’ Eventually, driven mad by her husband’s silence, Queenie admits that she gave the cake to Andrew (although she did not), and a few days later she discovers the hidden cake. She laughs at the turn of events to Chrissy, who becomes even more confused by her relationship with her husband. And, once the reader thinks enough twists have come from the story, Munro hits us with another: this entire time, Queenie HAS been flirting with Andrew, writing secret love letters behind her husband’s back. The last few pages of the story show Chrissy married, employed, with children, telling us that Queenie ran away again with Andrew, and that no one knows where she is (although Chrissy thinks she sees her everywhere). The saddest detail of the story is that Stan, the abusive and vile husband in the story, still sends Chrissy christmas cards every year; a lonely and mean person, reaching out despite.
The last story of the collection, ‘The Bear Came Over the Mountain,’ is one of Munro’s most praised and beloved stories. One of my favorite podcasts, The History of Literature, devotes an entire episode to analyzing this one short story- it’s incredible, and I highly recommend it.
The story opens with the early days of a relationship between Fiona and Grant, two youthful and energetic lovers who decide to get married after Fiona’s proposal- “He wanted never to be away from her. She had the spark of life.” Then, after Munro introduces these two characters in their youth, she quickly takes us to the present, where Fiona is leaving her house that she has plastered with sticky-notes in an effort to remember. We learn in the following paragraphs that Grant has decided to put Fiona in a nursing home because of her growing dementia; we see a heartbreaking conversation between the two of them, and Fiona’s recollection of her home that will no longer be hers. Grant has to stay away from the home for a month, per their rules, for Fiona to adjust; and in that time, Grant wonders if he’s made the right decision, if Fiona feels as if he has abandoned her. The two characters, both so young at the start of the story, have aged differently, one deteriorating much quicker than the other. When Grant is permitted to visit her, Fiona barely acknowledges his presence; she treats him like a guest, her main focus attuned to her card partner Aubrey, an older man she seems romantically linked to. Grant is astonished at this, and asks Kristy, the nurse, if anything is happening between them. Grant doesn’t quite feel anger or jealousy, mainly because of the delicacy of Fiona’s situation, but he does feel a curiosity, a fear. Grant reflects, in between his visits with Fiona, on his own promiscuity throughout their marriage; as a college professor, Grant had many affairs with students; this too, complicates his feelings on the blossoming relationship between Fiona and Aubrey, both too old perhaps to know who the other person actually is. Eventually, as Grant continues watching Fiona and Aubrey, Aubrey’s wife Marian pulls Aubrey out of the home and takes him back to their house. This leads to Fiona’s absolute depression- a refusal to eat or move, a disinterest in any activity. Kristy warns Grant that she will soon be moved to the extra care floor, where most people go to die. And here we see how self-sacrificing Grant is, how much he loves Fiona in this uncharted territory of aging and death. He takes it upon himself to get Aubrey back in to visit Fiona, knowing his visit would energize her and inspire her to live more so than anything else. He asks Marian to permit these visits which inspires a potential relationship between the two of them, something Grant isn’t too keen on but goes along with anyway for the benefit of his dying wife. Munro doesn’t reveal exactly what occurs between Grant and Marian, but we do know that eventually she relents and allows Aubrey to visit Fiona again. The final paragraphs of the story involve Grant bringing Aubrey to see Fiona, and asking her: “‘Fiona, do you remember Aubrey?” Her response is ambiguous, an expert move by Munro the craftsman- she writes: “She set the book down carefully and stood up and lifted her arms to put them around him. Her skin or her breath gave off a faint new smell, a smell that seemed to him like that of the stems of cut flowers left too long in their water. ‘I’m happy to see you,’ she said, and pulled his earlobes. ‘You could have just driven away,’ she said. ‘Just driven away without a care in the world and forsook me. Forsooken me. Forsaken.’ He kept his face against her white hair, her pink scalp, her sweetly shaped skull. He said, Not a chance.” Do you see the intentional ambiguity? Who is the He? Is it Aubrey, whom Grant has brought? Or is it Grant, the man who has worked away his own pride in order to give his wife some grace in her finality? We’re not sure, and Munro never specifies. I want it to be Grant that she’s hugging. I want the two of them to have found their way to one another again and to have granted themselves and one another such grace as to hold one another after all of the unknowns, despite of. And, maybe the true ending is that it doesn’t matter who He is. Perhaps Fiona loves and her ailment doesn’t let her distinguish Aubrey from Grant, Grant from Aubrey. Perhaps she takes advantage of the moments, clear or unclear, and chooses to live in them as best she can. And do we abandon the one we love as they traverse a part of life we have not yet known? Not a chance. It’s a story that gets better after every re-read, that surprises, still.
This collection may be my favorite that I’ve read of Munro’s. She’s an expert storyteller, and every story feels like a novel in its breadth. Her details are poignant and memorable, and she writes the mundane instances of married life as dire experiences, which, they end up being. I always pay attention to perspective in these stories- whether she chooses to write in first person or third person and why. What does it benefit the story to be told with She instead of I? What do we lose? I also pay heavy attention to the beginnings and endings of each story; often, the first two and last two sentences are mirror images of one another. Munro wraps her writing up with a haggard, polka-dotted bow, pretty in its refinement but still unexpected. I never want to finish my arsenal of Munro stories- these teach me to give more of a shrug to the events of life, despite how mundane, despite how tragic.