For the past week, I have been in the mood to read short stories. I don’t know why that mood for short stories came because I’m not a huge short story reader. However, I have decided not to dismiss it and go with this sudden feeling for short stories. I wrote a Facebook post on my personal page asking my Facebook friends what are some of their favorite short stories. I searched through my local branch at the library at several short story collections from individual authors and some “Best Of” collections too.
Alice Munro (along with Ted Chiang, George Saunders, Flannery O’Connor, and Gene Wolfe) were the first writers recommended to me for short stories. Munro has made her literary reputation on short stories and I thought this would be a good writer to start with.
I picked up her latest collection, Dear Life, at the library and looked at the table of contents for each story’s title in the collection. The story titled Haven got my attention first. A definition provided in the online Merriam-Webster Dictionary of Haven is a place of safety, refuge. Also, haven is one letter short of becoming heaven. Because of those facts, I read this one as my first Alice Munro story.
Haven is a thoughtful coming-of-age story of a young girl having to stay with her ultra-religious uncle and aunt because of her parents going to Africa for humanitarian purposes. The story is told from the young girl’s viewpoint and contrasts her uncle and aunt’s beliefs against her parents’ secular worldview. The girl’s uncle, Jasper, has created a world that caters to him and his religious views. Aunt Dawn plays her role as the submissive wife and the young girl cannot understand why she has taken such a position in their marriage.
Munro writes thoughtfully about extreme religiosity and a young girl’s place in a world where she is exposed to contrasting beliefs. Also, she reveals a lot about Uncle Jasper’s character when his estranged sister comes to town to give a musical performance that Dawn wants to attend.
Haven is not a story of action or plot, but a character story of a girl’s road to maturity and observation into a marriage that reveals more underneath the surface than what someone’s religious beliefs might portray publicly. I will admit reading this type of story would have bored me years ago. However, I enjoyed this story and Munro’s straightforward prose sucked me in as a reader. I’m glad this was my first choice for reading and reviewing short stories for the blog. Munro is an author I will return to again when I want to read short stories.