I don’t watch a lot of movies. People think it’s weird. They’ll ask me if I’ve seen a movie that apparently everyone in the world has seen, and, well, I haven’t seen it, and they look at me funny. “What is wrong with you? It’s a classic. You have to see it.” And it’s not that I don’t watch stuff, but I prefer TV. (I actually didn’t much like that, either, until I took a scriptwriting class.) My theory is that I prefer TV because movies are over too fast.
“But Rachael,” you’re saying, “That doesn’t make sense. The longest TV shows are still usually an hour long.” Not true! Each episode of Sherlock is an hour and a half, and that’s on Netflix with no commercials. I know that’s not your point, though. It’s true. Each episode of a TV show is much shorter, but at the end, you know the story will continue next week. A movie, on the other hand, gives you a couple of hours of enjoyment. And that’s it. Story’s over. The sequel probably sucks. You can re-watch it, but nothing new is going to happen.
And before you ask, yes, I’m okay with series of movies, but only if they’re planned that way. I’m pretty sure it never goes well when the producers say, “Hey, that made a lot of money! Go do another one.”
A TV show, on the other hand–you get 45 minutes of original material a week, usually about 13 to 24 weeks per year, for, well, years. And you can curl up with your Netflix account and watch it for days if you want, or you can watch a little bit every night before bed, and it keeps going. The story continues.
You’re probably wondering what this has to do with Runaway.
I have the same problem with short stories that I have with movies. I make myself a cup of tea, curl up with my book, and by the time my tea’s gone, the story’s over. It sits there mocking me. “Oh, you liked that? Yeah? It was good? Well, you can’t have more.” Thanks for mocking my pain, short story.
However, there are great movies. Movies that, at the end, you still wish weren’t over, but they told such an amazing story that you don’t mind so much that you can’t get more from them. (Though the only movie I can think of right now is Mulan, thanks to the catchy music being stuck in my head, so I’ll have to leave you with that as your example.) And, similarly, there are great short stories.
Runaway is filled with great short stories.
I wrote down an individual response to each story in my actual paper journal that I’ve been using to take notes so I actually remember what happened in the book when I go to write my post, but it’s about 8 pages so I’ll spare you all the gory details (okay, most of the gory details) and try to focus on the book as a whole.
Munro picked the perfect title story. Runaway is the first story in the collection, and it’s not quite what you’d expect from the title, but the idea of running away sets the tone for the rest of the collection. In each story, someone was running from something, though not always literally. And there’s always some sort of consequence, though never really the consequence that you would expect (even though you’re expecting unexpected consequences).
The stories in this collection are sad and painful. And not in a big, dramatic way–no, Munro doesn’t play like that. They’re sad in the way that will make other Doctor Who fans really understand what Sally Sparrow was talking about when she said that “sad […] is like happy for deep people.” It’s a profound sadness, and I feel like a pretentious jerk writing that. It’s a heavy, hollow sadness that lodges itself in your chest and just sits there until you watch Mulan and cry the whole time even though come on it’s not even a remotely sad movie.
I loved Runaway. It was brilliant. I highly recommend reading it. However, I less highly recommend reading it all in a row. Read “Chance,” “Soon,” and “Silence” all in a row, because each one is a continuation of the last, but the rest stand alone and probably should if moods from stories get into your head. I had an unexplainably sad week, and I don’t know if it’s necessarily because I was reading Runaway, but it definitely wasn’t helped by reading Runaway.
My favorite of the stories was “Chance.” I identified strongly with the main character, an introverted young woman named Juliet who loves reading and gets understandably annoyed when people think a book in front of her is an invitation to talk (it’s not). However, as her story continued in “Soon” and “Silence,” I found myself less and less able to relate to her. I felt like I was running into an old friend, seeing that they became someone I didn’t like much, and wondering what happened to the awesome person I used to know.
And that’s what Munro does. She makes her characters become real people. Each story felt like I was opening a window into someone’s life.
I did have one problem with this collection, though. Munro writes extremely intelligent characters, which I enjoyed. However, in a couple of the stories, these intelligent characters have intelligent children, and in each of the stories where there were children, these children called their parents by their first names. There were no moms or dads in this book. If it were one story, I’d understand, but I’ve known a number of highly intelligent families (I like to think I was raised in one), and in all of them, the kids call their parents Mom and Dad. And one of the stories even says something, I don’t remember exactly what it was, but something that felt like I was reading, “Smart people don’t need these silly names that society tells us we need to use. Those are for dumb people. Smart people stand on equal footing with adults.” This is obviously not a real quote. It’s my summation of the attitude that I felt was expressed by whatever the character actually said. I hope to someday raise some smart kids, and I imagine that if I do, I would be more than a little upset if, one day, they just started calling me Rachael instead of Mom.
I suppose Alice Munro can afford to be a little pretentious, though. I mean, she did just win a Nobel Frickin’ Prize.
Anyway! Onto… well, things.
Book Four of the 50 Book Project will be…
This Immortal by Roger Zelazny. I picked up a few Zelazny books at my favorite used bookstore a while back. My copy has this great old book smell and this horribly cheesy Fantasy Novel Cover. Zelazny is one of my favorite authors, but I haven’t read as much of his work as I’d like–it’s often fairly hard to find, so I was thrilled to find a bunch that I hadn’t read for about 3 dollars a piece. Can’t wait to start it!