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This review is taken from PN Review 66, Volume 15 Number 4, March - April 1989.

TELLING SECRETS Alice Munro, The Progress of Love (Chatto & Windus) £9.95

'"Lost" meant that somebody died. "She lost them" meant they died. Violet knew that. Nevertheless she imagined. Aunt Ivie - her mother-wandering into a swampy field... mislaid her children.' In 'A Queer Streak', as elsewhere in Alice Munro's fifth and latest collection of stories, The Progress of Love, much of the wit and invention turns upon the slippery nature of words. Much of its poignancy too proceeds from the same source. To the young girl Violet, the confusions of language are only a symptom of the greater disorder of her home life, and just as rooms can be swept and stoves polished, so words should be made to mean exactly what they say. A fine touch of irony on Munro's part and the crisis which destroys Violet's carefully organized future is a piece of verbal mystification. Were the poison-pen letters which her sister sent to their father a joke, a ploy to evade exams, 'a kind of female insanity', an outburst of 'anti-patriarchal rage'? In the course of Violet's long life, various explanations present themselves but the words are never precise enough to stick and the incident continues to elude definition.

Real-estate agents, farmers, nurses, housewives, store-managers - all Munro's characters share a compelling need to construct tidy versions of their own and other people's lifes, motives and relationships. This attitude of mind, it is likely, has been exaggerated by the environment; as is customary with this author, the majority of stories is set in south-western Ontario, ...


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