"Deep-Holes" opens with a family on a picnic in a clearly dangerous land formation (the family was celebrating the geologist father's publication of an article about the very formation); when the two young boys run off to pee, the reader is certain one or both will fall in a crevasse. What you don't expect is that, while the child survives, that fall is only a foreshadowing of his complete falling away from the family as an adult.
The characters in these stories experience, observe, or cause pain, psychological and physical. In "Free Radicals," Nita is mourning the unexpected death of her husband and awaiting her own predicted death from cancer when a triple murderer talks his way into her house. The protagonist of "Face" was hated by his father because of the large port wine birthmark on his face, a birthmark that prompts a childhood friend to scar herself. "Child's Play" is the story of best camp friends Charlene and Marlene, who carry the guilt of one terrible action throughout their lives. Throughout the stories, we see characters struggling to deal with life's sadness and pain, a struggle they are often ill-equipped to handle (as are we all).
The title story is significantly different from the other stories in the collection, as it involves a real historical person (mathematician and novelist Sophia Kovalevsky) and is set in Europe in the 19th century rather than contemporary Canada. While it shares some themes with the other nine stories, it did not seem to fit the collection and I did not find it as compelling.
While short stories are not my favorite, Munro is a master, and the first nine stories draw you into their damaged worlds. Interestingly, the narrator of "Fiction" writes of a book, "How Are We to Live" is a collection of short stories. This in itself is a disappointment. It seems to diminish the book's authority, making the author seem like somebody who is just hanging on the gates of literature, rather than safely settled inside." While Munro might have heard such remarks in the early years of her career, after the success she has enjoyed--in terms of awards, rave reviews, and readership--I can only hope she is including this statement ironically and that she doesn't feel like she is just hanging on!
You think that would have changed things? The answer is of course, and for a while, and never.
"Always remember that when a man goes out of the room, he leaves everything in it behind," her friend Maria Mendelson has told her. "When a woman goes out she carries everything that happened in the room along with her."