Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage by Alice Munro

September 21, 2013

Let’s talk about sex. Again.

I read ‘Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage*’ by Alice Munro for two reasons. The first and easiest to explain is that it’s included on the list of books women should read before they are 30. The second, more complicated reason is that I find sex absolutely fascinating from a psychological and societal standpoint (specifically from a female perspective). Sex is used for so many reasons – love, hate, happiness, sadness, pleasure, frustration, escape, revenge, redemption – just to name a few. It binds people together and tears them apart. It is, like many things, easier for men than women. It perpetuates our species. It is also one of the primary themes in Alice Munro’s ‘Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage’.

Hateship

A few facts about sex (uncited, of course):

I included those bits of trivia simply for fun (trivia thanks to UberFacts (tagline: the most unimportant things you’ll never need to know)). Of the nine stories that make up this collection, most deal with sex and relationships. In the story from which the collection takes its title, a lonely housekeeper is lured across Canada with false courtship letters. In another, a woman is able to survive her marriage by continually reliving a three hour affair. A constantly philandering husband has to help his wife have an affair when dementia sets in and she no longer remembers him (and instead pines for the man she dated as a teenager). A teenager runs off and marries her widowed neighbor (and former teacher), only to run away from him with one of his students. Despite similarities in all of the stories, the collection is a fascinating, but subtle look at the way sex, desire, and loneliness influence our lives.

The air seemed to grow thick with loathing. All over a matter that could never be resolved. They went to bed speechless, parted speechless the next morning, and during the day were overtaken by fear – hers that he would never come home, his that when he did she would not be there. Their luck held, however. They came together in the late afternoon pale with contrition, shaking with love, like people who had narrowly escaped an earthquake and had been walking around in naked desolation.

Alice Munro is often called the Canada’s Chekov and rightfully so, but there are strains of Raymond Carver, Vladimir Nabokov, and John Updike as well. She is detailed, empathetic (Chekov), yet wholly attuned to the plight of average person (Carver). Her stories have a strong sexuality (Nabokov) and often her characters are caught between domesticity and freedom (Updike). She is able to capture, quite beautifully, the challenges of everyday life – health, marriage, family, etc – and the burden of expectations and hope.

Even when she was younger she could never have contemplated such extravagance, not just in the matter of money but in expectations, in the preposterous hope of transformation, and bliss.

It’s very possible that Alice Munro is one of the greatest living short story writers. There are several reasons I would recommend this collection. First, I enjoyed ‘Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage’ and I think fans of literary fiction and short stories would as well. Second, If you have more than a passing interest in women and sex from a non-erotic perspective, this is a must read. Finally, and this is perhaps the reason I picked it up, you love a good list and you’re under the age of 30. Of note, from this particular collection, two films have been developed. Both Away From Her and Hateship, Loveship are based on stories from this collection (the former released in 2007, the latter to be released later this year). I know not everyone is a fan of short stories, but if you’ve ever considered reading a short story collection, I urge you to pick up something by this author. I sincerely believe (read: hope) you will not be disappointed. 4/5.

(I cannot be the only one fascinated by sex in non-erotic literature. I’ve mentioned it before, but one of my major frustrations with the state of YA, New Adult, and Adult Romance novels is that it is normal for the man to be significantly experienced and the woman to be a virgin. If you look at some of the novels out there, how is it possible for the men to have slept with hundreds of women (I’m thinking Thoughtless, Beautiful Disaster, and Torn), but the women to have slept with one (or none)? If you look at the way Kellan Kyle or Travis Maddox go through women (I believe Kellan slept with something like 1500 women by age 22), it’s a wonder there are any virgins left in the world. Anyway. I’m not judging, your number is your number, but a little bit of reality (and respect for women) doesn’t hurt. This annoys other people too, right?)

Dark Chocolate Cupcakes

There are numerous funerals in the stories, thus there are numerous funeral finger foods. I’m going with Dark Chocolate Cupcakes. All I want in life is someone to make me chocolate cake (cupcakes are an acceptable alternative), is that too much to ask? No, no it’s not.

* Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage is a game you play where a specific man is assigned to one of the terms. To me, it seemed like a precursor to the more modern Sleep, Marry, Kill.

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14 comments

  • lowcountrybooklover

    Great review. I couldn’t agree more that there is a double standard in most romance novels. The math doesn’t make sense – if men are having sex with hundreds of women, then most women are NOT virgins. Plus, do we still have to have a female protagonist who is pure for our hero to fall for her?

    • Rory

      Ugh, exactly. If a man is worth falling for that has had numerous partners than a woman is too. There’s essentially no difference. What is the appeal of that in a novel? I truly don’t understand. That being said, I also don’t understand the appeal of numerous partners (I’m not talking a handful, I’m talking 300+). Is that supposed to make a guy more appealing? Because it honestly makes me cringe, the thought of the disease potential alone makes me want to run in terror (or at least to the nearest clinic for a blood test), not to mention the serious lack of respect and consideration. Perpetuating that sort of stereotype in novels is frustrating. And I romance novels maybe twice a year! I will get off my soap box now.

  • Christine @ BookishlyB

    Adding this to my wishlist! And now I want cupcakes.

  • Allison @ The Book Wheel

    I really want to read this book! It seems like the relationship version of this book of essays about friendship. Of course, I have to read it if it’s by one of the greatest living short story writers :)

    • Rory

      You should! I just discovered Alice Munro thanks to the list, but I would definitely like to try one of her novels to see if she is as good in that form. Plus I always like to read other women’s opinions on sex, love, marriage, etc.

  • Shannon @ River City Reading

    I’m so glad you shared this. I’ve been dying to read something of Munro’s, but haven’t really known where to start and this sounds like the perfect book.

    • Rory

      I can’t speak to her other books, but I thought it was great. I wouldn’t call any of the stories happy, but I really enjoyed reading them.

  • Words for Worms

    I’m SO OVER the virginal heroine in romance novels. Why is it the ideal that the woman has no experience and the man is sowing his oats all over everything? I haven’t read any Munro. I’m intrigued.

    • Rory

      Seriously, why is that okay!? I fairly certain it’s more enjoyable for both partners if it is not the first time for either. It’s just expected that men will get with nearly anything that will have them. At any rate, I’m sort of thankful I don’t know any guys like that. Most of them at least have standards and respect, of course, I don’t really pry into their private lives so there may be things going on that they never tell me. I did take an opinion poll among my male friends the other day to see how often they think of sex. The consensus seemed to be about once an hour. I don’t know if that’s more or less than I thought it would be…

  • Sarah Says Read

    I love UberFacts!

    I probably won’t get around to reading this because ehh, short stories, but it does sound intriguing. And I am so with you on being bored with the experienced man & virginal female thing. I like the occassional romance novel, and it’s so hard to find one that doesn’t use that formula. And one of the things I like best about Jamie & Claire’s relatioship from the Outlander series is that HE was the virgin when they met. How cute.

  • Alice

    If I laugh at my own jokes, does that mean I fancy myself? (it probably does)

    I really want to read this book now!

  • Don Royster

    Alice Munro is one of my favorite writers. Two of my favorite of her stories are “Walker Brothers Cowboy” and “Runaway”. If you love Munro, you will probably love William Trevor. Would recommend his book of stories called “After Rain”. Both writers go deep. Take the reader into the human soul.

  • Bonnie (@missbonnie13)

    I must have missed this review of yours the first time around. I was actually cruising your blog because you read beautiful things and I’m having a terribly hard time picking something to read! What with Munro recently winning the Nobel Prize, I was intrigued by her short story collections, even though I don’t read them nearly enough, and I couldn’t decide which one I should try first. The way that sex is portrayed in YA these days is truly absurd. I stay far, far away from New Adult because that’s only worse. Oh yay, yet another list I apparently need to tackle. 30 is getting too close for comfort.

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