Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
"Alice Munro has a strong claim to being the best fiction writer now working in North America. Runaway is a
marvel." The New York Times Book Review
introduction, discussion questions, suggestions for further reading,
and author biography that follow are intended to enhance your groups
conversation about Alice Munros superb new collection, Runaway. In
these eight tales, we find women of all ages and circumstances, their
lives made palpable by the subtlety and empathy of this incomparable
is Sylvia so fond of Carla? Is Sylvia right, given the circumstances,
to suggest that Carla leave her husband and give her the means to do so?
When Carla tells her parents she wants a "more authentic" life, what
does she mean by this [p. 33]? How much does Carla know about
authenticity or about life?
What is Clarks appeal for Carla? What darker suggestions does the
story make about Clarks character? It seems that Clark has wanted to
get rid of Carlas beloved pet goat: why? What resonance does Carlas
vision of the goats bones lying in a nearby field have for the
readers understanding of her future?
does Juliet decide to pursue Eric, a man she has met briefly only once?
Is this a haphazard adventure, or does she go to Whale Bay with a
determination about what she wants? She has told Eric about her studies
in Greek and Latin, "I love all that stuff. I really do" [p. 71].
Later, she thinks of her love of the classical languages as her "treasure" [p. 83]. Why does she choose a man whose reading includes
only National Geographic and Popular Mechanics [p. 82]?
Consider the end of the story: "She can tell by his voice that he is
claiming her. She stands up, quite numb, and sees that he is older,
heavier, more impetuous than she has remembered. He advances on her and
she feels herself ransacked from top to bottom, flooded with relief,
assaulted by happiness. How astonishing this is. How close to dismay"
[p. 85]. What does this passage express about Juliets situation and
When Juliet finds the print of Chagalls I and the Village
buys it for her parents, she tells Christa, "It makes me think of their
life. . . . I dont know why, but it does" [p. 88]. What is the
significance of this painting as a gift and that Juliet later finds it
hidden away in their attic? What does Juliet come to understand about
her parents marriage?
Sara tells Juliet, "When it gets really bad for mewhen it gets so bad
Iyou know what I think then? I think, all right, I thinkSoon. Soon Ill see
[p. 124]. Why does Juliet refuse to acknowledge this statement from her
dying mother? What makes the final paragraph of the story so effective
in conveying the moments cold emotion?
Carla in "Runaway," Juliet seems to take pride in her choice of an
unconventional life. Does Penelope punish her mother for denying her
the comfortable, conventional life she experiences with her friend
Heathers family [p. 144]? Is Juliet right or wrong to share with
Penelope, just after Erics death, tales of their arguments and his
infidelity and to describe the burning of his body on the beach [p.
149]? Is it possible that Juliet says something during this time that
is, for Penelope, unforgivable? To what extent does the story repeat
the pattern of "Soon" and Juliets rejection of her own mother?
What does Juliet not see about herself that is clear to the reader?
What aspects of her character are problematic? Is she admirable? Is she
a narcissist? Is she "lacking in motherly inhibitions and propriety and
self-control" [p. 156]? How does she handle the suffering inflicted
upon her by Penelope and the diminishment of her life as she ages?
When Mrs. Travers is talking about Tolstoys
with Grace, she says her sympathies shifted from Kitty, to Anna, to
Dolly, "I suppose thats just how your sympathies change as you get
older. Passion gets pushed behind the washtubs" [p. 172]. Does passion
have several meanings in this story? What does passion mean for each
"The ease with which [Grace] offered herself" to Maury is "a deliberate
offering which he could not understand and which did not fit in at all
with his notions of her" [p. 173]. Later, Grace realizes it would have
been "a treachery to herself" to think of marrying Maury [p. 190]. What
changes for Grace when she spends time with Neil? What causes this
profound shift in perspective? What do she and Neil have in common?
The story opens with Graces return forty years later to find the
Traverses house on the lake, which is the site of "old confusions or
obligations" [p. 161]. Why does Munro choose not to tell us what
Graces life is like now and how the choices she made that day have
tells Lauren about Eileens first child and the circumstances of that
childs death when she unknowingly picks up the box containing the
first childs ashes [pp. 20304]. What do we learn about his character
from the way he narrates the story and his attitude toward Lauren as he
tells her? What does he imply about Eileen? How does Laurens response
reflect her feelings toward her parents and to the life theyve chosen?
Lauren, as Delphine points out, is "a kid that is not short of information" [p. 220]. We dont learn until page 226, however, that
Lauren is only ten. Why does Munro withhold this information until
fairly late in the story?
Why do Harry and Eileen decide to make a ceremony of scattering the
first childs ashes? What is the impact of Harrys words, "This is
Lauren . . . and we say good-bye to her and commit her to the snow"
[pp. 23334]? What is the effect of the storys final paragraph about
Laurens reaction to the burrs clinging to her pajamas?
story is based on the Shakespearean plots that involve twins, mistaken
identities, and precise symmetry. Such tricks of plot, Robin thinks,
are supposed to be a means to an end, "The pranks are forgiven, true
love or something like it is rekindled, and those who were fooled have
the good grace not to complain" [p. 268]. Why is the key to the mystery
revealed to Robin so late in the game? Why did the lovers base their
happiness on such a risky proposal? After finding out what had come
between herself and Danilo, Robin reflects, "That was another world
they had been in, surely" [p. 269]. What was this other world?
The title of this story might also be "Chance." What does Munro suggest about the power of chance in shaping a life?
story opens with Nancys diary and her first person voice. What do we
learn about Nancys character in this intimate narrative form?
According to Ollie, Nancy is "not outstanding in any way, except
perhaps in being spoiled, saucy, and egotistical"; as a girl she was "truly, naturally reckless and full of some pure conviction that she
led a charmed life" [pp. 285, 287]. Is this an accurate description of
Like several other stories in this collection, "Powers" takes place in
at least two time periods. It begins in 1927 and ends some time in the
early seventies. What is the effect of this dual immersion in the early
and late stages of the characters lives? How accurately does this
story project the sense of reality in its main characters voice and
her immersion in a particular time and place?
What does Nancy want or expect from marriage? Why does she marry Wilf?
Does it seem that she would prefer to marry Ollie? Why or why not? Does
Nancy warn Tessa against Ollie out of jealousy, or out of a realistic
concern that he is not to be trusted?
Does the storys ending describe a dream [pp. 33035]? A vision? Why
does it provide Nancy with a "sense of being reprieved" [p. 335]? What
does it tell us about Nancys conscience and about her lifelong
involvement with Tessa and Ollie?
For discussion of Runaway
of these stories involve young women who act upon a strong desire for
sexual or romantic fulfillment or for escape from a stifling life. Is
desire liberating or confining? Do these characters really know what
they want or need? Does Munro suggest that desire is provisional and
subject to change? Do the stories imply that life is inherently
unstable and unknowable?
Writer Alan Hollinghurst has observed, "Munros stories have always
felt exceptionally capacious; they have the scope of novels, though
without any awkward sense of speeding up or boiling down. . . . Its
almost impossible to describe their unforced exactness, their unrushed economy" [The Guardian, February 5, 2005]. Which techniques does
Munro employ to accomplish this illusion of space and time in only
forty or fifty pages?
In "Soon," Juliet comes across a chatty letter she had written to Eric
the summer she visited her parents [p. 124]. In it she finds "the
preserved and disconcerting voice of some past fabricated self" [p.
125]. How does this idea of false self-representation work in various
stories? Do characters tend to misrepresent themselves mainly in
letters, or in person as well? Do they believe in these "fabricated selves" that they create for themselves and others?
Most of the stories in Runaway
involve an older woman who is looking back at a determining moment in
her youth. How do these characters view their younger selves? What are
the qualities that accompany their reminiscences about the
pastsentimentality, irony, bitterness, regret, a desire to change the
Charles Baxter, Harmony of the World
Richard Ford, A Multitude of Sins
The Faith Healer
Henry James, What Maisie Knew
All the Days and Nights
John McGahern, Amongst Women
Like Life Flannery OConnor, A Good Man Is Hard to Find
Unless; William Trevor, The Collected Stories
Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Vintage.
Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.
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