A Fair Trade Book
Title: Friend of My Youth
(The picture should open a link where you can buy the actual book, but you may have to click through a promotion for "Kindle" e-junk.)
Author: Alice Munro
Publisher: Random House / Knopf
Length: 274 pages
Quote: “Reading such heavy books, Barbara grew heavier herself.”
That's not a problem readers will have with this book. Friend of My Youth is a thin, light book, not hip-pocket sized, but small enough to fit into a coat pocket. The ten short stories inside it are completely separate from one another; it won’t keep you reading long enough to lower your metabolism.
What happens in these stories? Mostly, relationships develop. In two of the stories the relationships are with figures in the past: one woman tries to make sense of what she’s been told of the story of a family her mother used to know; another woman considers a deliciously bad poet of the nineteenth century and imagines the trauma that destroyed her talent. In another story a character reveals his fundamental nastiness by telling his current bedmate the story of his first one. Several of the relationships that define these characters are sexual but at least readers can’t complain that all the characters’ important decisions are made in bed. Friends and family are as important to the main characters as sex is. The main characters are women, all apparently fairly young. Their important decisions grow out of the nuances of conversation. In a word, this is a book of first-rate chick lit.
All the main characters are Canadian. Most of the stories are set in Canada. There is a salt mine in the background; none of the stories takes place in it, but some of the characters work in it. Work is not a dominant motif in these stories. Munro has resisted the temptation to make all her central characters writers, but has not invested a great deal of imagination in the possibilities of doing anything but writing.
I’m not a huge fan of the short story genre, and Friend of My Youth didn’t convert me. However, people who like short stories consider Munro one of the best writers in the genre. Each story is plausible, and written with enough witty insights to keep a determined reader (even one who doesn’t like short stories) awake. You won’t laugh out loud enough to disturb other passengers on the train, if you read this book on a train. You won’t cry enough to aggravate the pain, if you read it in a hospital. If you want to feel more empathy and compassion toward your fellow humans, reflecting on these stories might even help. This makes Friend of My Youth a good choice for train, beach, hospital, bathroom, or bedside reading.
Alice Munro is still living, so as of the time of writing this is a Fair Trade Book. If you buy it here, for $5 per copy + $5 per package, I'll send 10% of that price ($1 per book) to Munro or a charity of her choice. You could probably fit three more books into the package with this one, in which case you'd probably send me $25 and I'd send Munro or her charity $4.