Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage is a collection of nine short stories by the 2013 Nobel Prize winner in Literature, Alice Munro. The stories are populated by people in different stages of life confronting different challenges—a teenager’s practical joke that opens a new life trajectory for a housekeeper; a cancer patient; an elderly Alzheimer patient; a woman coping with her husband’s suicide; and so on. But the common thread running throughout is Alice Munro’s unflinchingly honest eye at the complex interiority of her characters’ apparently ordinary lives.
Munro’s razor-sharp lens focuses on relationships between individuals, whether those are familial, marital, between friends or acquaintances. She explores the impact of the death or illness of a loved one, childhood separations, gendered inequities, disappointments in marriage, resentments, infidelities, family secrets, and the role of memory in our lives. And she does this with a quiet subtlety that allows telling details to bring a picture into focus. Very little happens on the surface of the stories. The drama, the tension, the conflicts, and the epiphany—if there is one—are all internal and revealed slowly with consummate skill. Her words do not shriek; they do not judge. They sneak up on you, packing a powerful punch that catches one unaware.
What emerges from these stories is Munro’s sensitive and compassionate portrayal of the internal lives of flawed individuals struggling with life’s challenges. She details the private lives of her characters by crafting seemingly innocuous public encounters for them. It is a testament to her great skill as a writer that she is able to penetrate beneath the superficialities of an apparently humdrum, ordinary life to reveal the rich, complex, and conflicted texture of the character’s interiority. Her vision is expansive; her skill impressive.