Alice Munro is the first Canadian Laureate for Literature, awarded in 2013 for her mastery of the short story.
This is her first collection of stories, originally published in 1968. There are 15 short stories, some I liked more than others. She writes very well, very descriptively, but I just didn’t get into some of the stories. The settings are invariably around the small towns around Lake Huron in Southern Ontario, too cold in the winter, too hot in the summer. Towns riven with small-town gossip and genteel respectability, a coded, rigid place, with expectations about what is proper for a woman to do, think and feel.
I had forgotten certain restrictions of life in Jubilee…
Often her first person narrators are children, not fully understanding what is going on but happy to be a long for the ride.
Then we are backing out of the driveway with the rising hope of adventure, just the little hope that takes you over the first bump into the street, the hot air starting to move, turning into a breeze, the houses growing less and less familiar as we follow the short cut my father knows, the quick way out of town…
A frequent theme is young girls coming of age or discovering the playing field is different for boys and girls. Not a lot happens but we experience the awkwardness of the first dance, the guilt of leaving a sibling to deal with an ageing parent, a married salesman visiting his childhood sweetheart…now a middle aged spinster. (no body count here, Emma)
The title “Dance of the Happy Shades” is from the last of the stories, one of the more memorable ones, a story about an elderly piano teacher, who annually holds a cringe worthy little recital for her pupils to play in front of their mothers and others, the teacher’s idealistic view of children made her almost useless as a teacher. A group from a special school unexpectedly join the recital, mid-way through, making the audience feel uncomfortable and trapped, these children play no worse (or not much worse) than the other children however the narrator feels an atmosphere in the room of some freakish inescapable dream. The final child however plays beautifully, “Dance of the Happy Shades” or “Danse des ombres heureuses.”
My rating : 4 out of 5