Literature of the English-Speaking World

Cleveland Park Library

Literature of the English-Speaking World

Session Six: 'Runaway' by Alice Munro

We welcome all of you to the sixth and final session of our library book discussion series, “Literature of the English-Speaking World,” moderated by Dr. Phil Burnham, which will meet at Cleveland Park Library on Feb. 12, 7 p. m.

For February we’re reading Alice Munro’s Runaway, one of the many story collections that earned her the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2013. The first Canadian to win the prize, Munro writes fiction that focuses on the lives of “ordinary” people in her native Ontario. Hardly ordinary on close inspection, her characters experience all the mystery and puzzlement and passion that, in the hands of a first-rate writer, make their lives memorable and unique.

Runaway is a set of eight stories, each precisely colored by Munro’s detailed and prodigious palette. In all of them, a girl or young woman discovers the small (and sometimes large) secrets of everyday life that are revealed in a joy ride, a chance encounter, an unexplained disappearance, a botched runaway. The stories are slippery, even wild, in their surprises.

Here are some study questions to get you thinking about the novel.
  1. In the opening story of Runaway, why does Clark never tell Carla that he has seen Flora, their lost goat? Once she realizes he’s seen her, why does she never question him about it? 
  2. How would you describe Juliet, the central character of three interlocked stories? What are the noticeable patterns in her life as she develops from a young teacher to a troubled mother?      
  3. Why would Penelope want to cut off contact with her mother, as she does in “Silence”? Does her decision have anything to do with the “purity” of her nature, as Juliet wonders?
  4. In “Passion,” why does the Travers family give Grace a check at the end of the story? Why does she feel, at first, the gesture is inappropriate? 
  5. Why does Munro end “Trespasses” with a description of Lauren’s burrs? Are they a symbol of something--or are they, in closing, just another compelling detail in a story chock full of them?
  6. Most of the main characters in Runaway are women and girls. How would you characterize Munro’s depiction of men?  Are they, on the whole, benevolent? More generous than selfish? More kind than mean?
  7. Is “Tricks” a tragic story about a missed opportunity, or is it a comic guffaw about the vanity of human dreams?
  8. Why does Ollie tell Nancy that he cremated Tessa’s remains in the final story? Since Nancy knows he’s lying, what doesn’t she challenge him?
  9. What is it that Nancy experiences at the end of “Powers”? A dream? Hallucination? Is it a gift from Tessa?
  10. Almost all of the stories in Runaway are about “journeys,” long and short. Which of those journeys is the most liberating? 
For those of you interested in learning more about Munro and her work, here are a few links that may be useful. Thanks to the Friends of Cleveland Park Library and Professor Burnham. We’ve had another lively and intelligent series of book discussions.  Everyone is welcome for the final session -- you don’t have to be a member of the Friends to attend, you don’t need to have signed up previously, and you don’t even need to have come to a previous session in order to join us.

And this time we’ll have some refreshments!

So please check out a copy of Munro’s book and join us on Feb. 12.
    book cover