25 Alice Munro Stories You Can Read Online Right Now
For Use as a Master Class in Short Story Writing
When a writer is universally beloved and highly prolific, it can be hard for the uninitiated to know where to start. It’s even more difficult when the writer in question is a master of the short story as opposed to the novel, because at least novels lend themselves to the kind of summary that might let you know if you’ll be interested in the book—it’s much harder to describe a story collection. Such is the case for many with Alice Munro: people know they should read her, but have no idea how to break into her oeuvre. Well, if you’re one of those people, you’re in luck. Munro turns 87 tomorrow, which is as good a reason as any (though let’s be clear: no reason is required) to finally delve into some of her work.
So if you’ve been too intimidated to dive into this incredible writer’s formidable backlog, why not ease in with some no-commitment short stories? You won’t even have to buy a book. Below, you can read the openings of 25 Munro stories to see which one strikes your fancy—you could browse chronologically, or if you need a more pointed nudge, you could always start with my own personal favorite, “Wenlock Edge.” Once you’ve decided, click through—all of the below stories are available to read for free thanks to the magic of the internet (though depending on your subscriptions, you may have to get creative). Enjoy.
“Boys and Girls,” 1968
My father was a fox farmer. That is, he raised silver foxes, in pens; and in the fall and early winter, when their fur was prime, he killed them and skinned them and sold their pelts to the Hudson’s Bay Company or the Montreal Fur Traders. These companies supplied us with heroic calendars to hang, one on each side of the kitchen door. Against a background of cold blue sky and black pine forests and treacherous northern rivers, plumed adventures planted the flags of England and or of France; magnificent savages bent their backs to the portage.
“Queenie,” London Review of Books, 1998
Queenie said, “Maybe you better stop calling me that,” and I said, “What?”
“Stan doesn’t like it,” she said. “Queenie.”
“The Bear Came Over the Mountain,” The New Yorker, 1999
Fiona lived in her parents’ house, in the town where she and Grant went to university. It was a big, bay-windowed house that seemed to Grant both luxurious and disorderly, with rugs crooked on the floors and cup rings bitten into the table varnish. Her mother was Icelandic—a powerful woman with a froth of white hair and indignant far-left politics. The father was an important cardiologist, revered around the hospital but happily subservient at home, where he would listen to his wife’s strange tirades with an absentminded smile. Fiona had her own little car and a pile of cashmere sweaters, but she wasn’t in a sorority, and her mother’s political activity was probably the reason. Not that she cared. Sororities were a joke to her, and so was politics—though she liked to play “The Four Insurgent Generals” on the phonograph, and sometimes also the “Internationale,” very loud, if there was a guest she thought she could make nervous.
“What Is Remembered,” The New Yorker, 2001
In a hotel room in Vancouver, Meriel as a young woman is putting on her short white summer gloves. She wears a beige linen dress and a flimsy white scarf over her hair. Dark hair, at that time. She smiles, because she has remembered something that Queen Sirikit of Thailand said, or was quoted as saying, in a magazine. A quote within a quote—something Queen Sirikit said that Balmain had said.
“Balmain taught me everything. He said, ‘Always wear white gloves. It’s best.’”
“Runaway,” The New Yorker, 2003
Carla heard the car coming before it topped the little rise in the road that around here they called a hill. It’s her, she thought. Mrs. Jamieson—Sylvia—home from her holiday in Greece. From the barn door—but far enough inside that she could not easily be seen—she watched the road where Mrs. Jamieson would have to drive by, her place being half a mile farther along than Clark and Carla’s.
If it was somebody coming to see them, the car would be slowing down by now. But still Carla hoped. Let it not be her.
“Passion,” The New Yorker, 2004
When Grace goes looking for the Traverses’ summer house, in the Ottawa Valley, it has been many years since she was in that part of the country. And, of course, things have changed. Highway 7 now avoids towns that it used to go right through, and it goes straight in places where, as she remembers, there used to be curves. This part of the Canadian Shield has many small lakes, which most maps have no room to identify. Even when she locates Sabot Lake, or thinks she has, there seem to be too many roads leading into it from the county road, and then, when she chooses one, too many paved roads crossing it, all with names that she does not recall. In fact, there were no street names when she was here, more than forty years ago. There was no pavement, either—just one dirt road running toward the lake, then another running rather haphazardly along the lake’s edge.
“Chance,” The New Yorker, 2004
Halfway through June of 1965, the term at Torrance House School for Girls is over. Juliet has not been offered a permanent job—the teacher she was replacing has recovered from a bout of depression—and she could now be on her way home. Instead, she is taking what she has described as a little detour. A little detour to see a friend who lives up the coast.
“Soon,” The New Yorker, 2004
Two profiles face each other. One, a pure-white heifer, with a particularly mild and tender expression, the other a green-faced man who is neither young nor old. He seems to be a minor official, maybe a postman—he wears that sort of cap. His lips are pale; the white of his visible eye is shining. A hand that is probably his offers up, from the lower margin of the painting, a little tree or an exuberant branch, fruited with jewels.
“Silence,” The New Yorker, 2004
On the short ferry ride from Buckley Bay to Denman Island, Juliet gets out of her car and stands at the front of the boat, in the late-spring breeze. A woman standing there recognizes her, and they begin to talk. It is not unusual for people to take a second look at Juliet and wonder where they’ve seen her before. She appears regularly on the provincial television channel, interviewing people who lead notable lives, and deftly directing panel discussions, for a program called “Issues of the Day.” Her hair is cut short now, as short as possible, and has taken on a very dark auburn color, which matches the frames of her glasses. She often wears black pants, as she does today, and an ivory silk shirt, and sometimes a black jacket. She is what her mother would have called a striking woman.
“The View from Castle Rock,” The New Yorker, 2005
On a visit to Edinburgh with his father when he is nine or ten years old, Andrew finds himself climbing the damp, uneven stone steps of the Castle. His father is in front of him, some other men behind—it’s a wonder how many friends his father has found, standing in cubbyholes where there are bottles set on planks, in the High Street—until at last they crawl out on a shelf of rock, from which the land falls steeply away. It has just stopped raining, the sun is shining on a silvery stretch of water far ahead of them, and beyond that is a pale green and grayish-blue land, a land as light as mist, sucked into the sky.
“Wenlock Edge,” The New Yorker, 2005
My mother had a bachelor cousin a good deal younger than her, who used to visit us on the farm every summer. He brought along his mother, Aunt Nell Botts. His own name was Ernie Botts. He was a tall, florid man with a good-natured expression, a big square face, and fair curly hair springing straight up from his forehead. His hands, his fingernails were as clean as soap itself; his hips were a little plump. My name for him—when he was not around—was Earnest Bottom. I had a mean tongue.
But I meant no harm. Or hardly any harm.
“Dimension,” The New Yorker, 2006
Doree had to take three buses—one to Kincardine, where she waited for one to London, where she waited again, for the city bus out to the facility. She started the trip on a Sunday at nine in the morning. Because of the waiting times between buses, it took her until about two in the afternoon to travel the hundred-odd miles. All that sitting, either on buses or in the depots, was not a thing she should have minded. Her daily work was not of the sitting-down kind.
“Free Radicals,” The New Yorker, 2008
At first, people kept phoning, to make sure that Nita was not too depressed, not too lonely, not eating too little or drinking too much. (She had been such a diligent wine drinker that many forgot that she was now forbidden to drink at all.) She held them off, without sounding nobly grief-stricken or unnaturally cheerful or absent-minded or confused. She said that she didn’t need groceries; she was working through what she had on hand. She had enough of her prescription pills and enough stamps for her thank-you notes.
“Deep-Holes,” The New Yorker, 2008
Sally packed devilled eggs—something she usually hated to take on a picnic, because they were so messy. Ham sandwiches, crab salad, lemon tarts—also a packing problem. Kool-Aid for the boys, a half bottle of Mumm’s for herself and Alex. She would have just a sip, because she was still nursing. She had bought plastic champagne glasses for the occasion, but when Alex spotted her handling them he got the real ones—a wedding present—out of the china cabinet. She protested, but he insisted, and took charge of them himself, the wrapping and packing.
“Face,” The New Yorker, 2008
I am convinced that my father looked at me, really saw me, only once. After that, he knew what was there.
In those days, they didn’t let fathers into the glare of the theatre where babies were born, or into the room where the women about to give birth were stifling their cries or suffering aloud. Fathers laid eyes on the mothers only once they were cleaned up and conscious and tucked under pastel blankets in the ward or in semi-private or private rooms. My mother had a private room, as became her status in town, and it was just as well, actually, seeing the way things turned out.
“Some Women,” The New Yorker, 2008
I am amazed sometimes to think how old I am. I can remember when the streets of the town I lived in were sprinkled with water to lay the dust in summer, and when girls wore waist cinchers and crinolines that could stand up by themselves, and when there was nothing much to be done about things like polio and leukemia. Some people who got polio got better, crippled or not, but people with leukemia went to bed, and, after some weeks’ or months’ decline in a tragic atmosphere, they died.
The best thing in winter was driving home, after her day teaching music in the Rough River schools. It would already be dark, and on the upper streets of the town snow might be falling, while rain lashed the car on the coastal highway. Joyce drove beyond the limits of the town into the forest, and though it was a real forest with great Douglas firs and cedar trees, there were people living in it every quarter mile or so. There were some people who had market gardens, a few who had some sheep or riding horses, and there were enterprises like Jon’s—he restored and made furniture. Also the services advertised beside the road, and more particular to this part of the world—tarot readings, herbal massage, conflict resolution. Some people lived in trailers; others had built their own houses, incorporating thatched roofs and log ends, and still others, like Jon and Joyce, were renovating old farmhouses.
“Corrie,” The New Yorker, 2010
“It isn’t a good thing to have the money concentrated all in the one family, the way you do in a place like this,” Mr. Carlton said. “I mean, for a girl like my daughter Corrie here. For example, I mean, like her. It isn’t good. Nobody on the same level.”
Corrie was right across the table, looking their guest in the eye. She seemed to think this was funny.
“Axis,” The New Yorker, 2011
Fifty years ago, Grace and Avie were waiting at the university gates, in the freezing cold. A bus would come eventually, and take them north, through the dark, thinly populated countryside, to their homes. Forty miles to go for Avie, maybe twice that for Grace. They were carrying large books with solemn titles: “The Medieval World,” “Montcalm and Wolfe,” “The Jesuit Relations.”
“Gravel,” The New Yorker, 2011
At that time we were living beside a gravel pit. Not a large one, hollowed out by monster machinery, just a minor pit that a farmer must have made some money from years before. In fact, the pit was shallow enough to lead you to think that there might have been some other intention for it—foundations for a house, maybe, that never made it any further.
“Leaving Maverley,” The New Yorker, 2011
In the old days when there was a movie theatre in every town there was one in this town, too, in Maverley, and it was called the Capital, as such theatres often were. Morgan Holly was the owner and the projectionist. He didn’t like dealing with the public—he preferred to sit in his upstairs cubbyhole managing the story on the screen—so naturally he was annoyed when the girl who took the tickets told him that she was going to have to quit, because she was having a baby. He might have expected this—she had been married for half a year, and in those days you were supposed to get out of the public eye before you began to show—but he so disliked change and the idea of people having private lives that he was taken by surprise.
“Train,” Harper’s, 2012
This is a slow train anyway, and it has slowed some more for the curve. Jackson is the only passenger left, and the next stop is about twenty miles ahead. Then the stop at Ripley, then Kincardine and the lake. He is in luck and it’s not to be wasted. Already he has taken his ticket stub out of its overhead notch.
“Amundsen,” The New Yorker, 2012
On the bench outside the station, I sat and waited. The station had been open when the train arrived, but now it was locked. Another woman sat at the end of the bench, holding between her knees a string bag full of parcels wrapped in oiled paper. Meat—raw meat. I could smell it.
“Haven,” The New Yorker, 2012
All this happened in the seventies, though in that town and other small towns like it the seventies were not as we picture them now, or as I had known them even in Vancouver. The boys’ hair was longer than it had been, but not straggling down their backs, and there didn’t seem to be an unusual amount of liberation or defiance in the air.
“Voices,” The Telegraph, 2013
When my mother was growing up, she and her whole family would go to dances. These would be held in the schoolhouse, or sometimes in a farmhouse with a big enough front room. Young and old would be in attendance. Someone would play the piano — the household piano or the one in the school — and someone would have brought a violin. The square dancing had complicated patterns or steps, which a person known for a special facility would call out at the top of his voice (it was always a man) and in a strange desperate sort of haste which was of no use at all unless you knew the dance already. As everybody did, having learned them all by the time they were ten or twelve years old.