Reviews

Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage by Alice Munro

Let’s talk about sex. Again.

I read ‘Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage*’ by Alice Munro for two reasons. The first and easiest to explain is that it’s included on the list of books women should read before they are 30. The second, more complicated reason is that I find sex absolutely fascinating from a psychological and societal standpoint (specifically from a female perspective). Sex is used for so many reasons – love, hate, happiness, sadness, pleasure, frustration, escape, revenge, redemption – just to name a few. It binds people together and tears them apart. It is, like many things, easier for men than women. It perpetuates our species. It is also one of the primary themes in Alice Munro’s ‘Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage’.

Hateship

A few facts about sex (uncited, of course):

I included those bits of trivia simply for fun (trivia thanks to UberFacts (tagline: the most unimportant things you’ll never need to know)). Of the nine stories that make up this collection, most deal with sex and relationships. In the story from which the collection takes its title, a lonely housekeeper is lured across Canada with false courtship letters. In another, a woman is able to survive her marriage by continually reliving a three hour affair. A constantly philandering husband has to help his wife have an affair when dementia sets in and she no longer remembers him (and instead pines for the man she dated as a teenager). A teenager runs off and marries her widowed neighbor (and former teacher), only to run away from him with one of his students. Despite similarities in all of the stories, the collection is a fascinating, but subtle look at the way sex, desire, and loneliness influence our lives.

The air seemed to grow thick with loathing. All over a matter that could never be resolved. They went to bed speechless, parted speechless the next morning, and during the day were overtaken by fear – hers that he would never come home, his that when he did she would not be there. Their luck held, however. They came together in the late afternoon pale with contrition, shaking with love, like people who had narrowly escaped an earthquake and had been walking around in naked desolation.

Alice Munro is often called the Canada’s Chekov and rightfully so, but there are strains of Raymond Carver, Vladimir Nabokov, and John Updike as well. She is detailed, empathetic (Chekov), yet wholly attuned to the plight of average person (Carver). Her stories have a strong sexuality (Nabokov) and often her characters are caught between domesticity and freedom (Updike). She is able to capture, quite beautifully, the challenges of everyday life – health, marriage, family, etc – and the burden of expectations and hope.

Even when she was younger she could never have contemplated such extravagance, not just in the matter of money but in expectations, in the preposterous hope of transformation, and bliss.

It’s very possible that Alice Munro is one of the greatest living short story writers. There are several reasons I would recommend this collection. First, I enjoyed ‘Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage’ and I think fans of literary fiction and short stories would as well. Second, If you have more than a passing interest in women and sex from a non-erotic perspective, this is a must read. Finally, and this is perhaps the reason I picked it up, you love a good list and you’re under the age of 30. Of note, from this particular collection, two films have been developed. Both Away From Her and Hateship, Loveship are based on stories from this collection (the former released in 2007, the latter to be released later this year). I know not everyone is a fan of short stories, but if you’ve ever considered reading a short story collection, I urge you to pick up something by this author. I sincerely believe (read: hope) you will not be disappointed. 4/5.

(I cannot be the only one fascinated by sex in non-erotic literature. I’ve mentioned it before, but one of my major frustrations with the state of YA, New Adult, and Adult Romance novels is that it is normal for the man to be significantly experienced and the woman to be a virgin. If you look at some of the novels out there, how is it possible for the men to have slept with hundreds of women (I’m thinking Thoughtless, Beautiful Disaster, and Torn), but the women to have slept with one (or none)? If you look at the way Kellan Kyle or Travis Maddox go through women (I believe Kellan slept with something like 1500 women by age 22), it’s a wonder there are any virgins left in the world. Anyway. I’m not judging, your number is your number, but a little bit of reality (and respect for women) doesn’t hurt. This annoys other people too, right?)

Dark Chocolate Cupcakes

There are numerous funerals in the stories, thus there are numerous funeral finger foods. I’m going with Dark Chocolate Cupcakes. All I want in life is someone to make me chocolate cake (cupcakes are an acceptable alternative), is that too much to ask? No, no it’s not.

* Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage is a game you play where a specific man is assigned to one of the terms. To me, it seemed like a precursor to the more modern Sleep, Marry, Kill.

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