Book Review – Queenie (By: Alice Munro)

Queenie is a short story published in book form written by the “greatest living short story writer” and Nobel laureate Alice Munro. It was first published in a magazine and then on its own as a mini-book for some reason. I picked it up because I’ve been looking into how short stories are published as stand-alone items, but reading it was fun, too, and it barely took any time at all.

I got a better version of the cover

As with many short stories, the basic plot is simple. The narrator goes to see her older stepsister “Queenie” in Toronto ostensibly because she is preparing to go there for university and is looking for a job, but more so that she can be a part of her sister’s life again. Her sister (actual name Lena) ran off with a much older man years previous and is both excited to see her, but emotionally distant. That’s about as far as I dare go, and if that beginning sounds mundane that’s because it is. The story has a few interesting turns but it’s mostly about the characters, their struggles and some interesting dynamics between them. To that point the story is effective: it makes it easy for you to become emotionally invested with the main character and brings you down a well-crafted path. The ending especially is superb and resonant to the point that I had to read something else to be able to get to sleep the night I finished it (I read the 1774 Declaration of Rights if anyone cares).

But the other characters are… “hard” to empathize with, or even understand. The title character in particular I find… a scumbag. Her methods for pursuing her desires are entirely foreign to me and there is almost no character arc: she learns nothing, our main character learns something, everyone else is surprisingly stoic about it. That isn’t to say the character doesn’t feel real, most of those in the story do, (save for a woman running the food counter in a drugstore. And the excursion that lead to meeting her seemed pointless) but (almost) everyone else in the story likes her, and that certainly didn’t mirror my feelings. It would seem that’s the way the story is supposed to be, she is liked because she is “likable” and no character has as complete a knowledge as the reader does, until you get to the end and feelings on it change slightly. Of course everything is wonderfully set up for that, the paragraphs are well crafted and everything (except the previously noted drugstore sequence) has a place in getting you to feel the emotion of the story, and going through the different phases.

Despite that seemingly glowing endorsement I merely enjoyed the story. It is a well crafted and emotionally resonating piece by a master of the art, about people just ever so slightly out of everyday life, but it’s not one I’d give as a recommendation to many people. It just isn’t “solid” enough to be “great” from my perspective, but maybe that’s the mundane topics it covers talking. To put it one way, I don’t thinks it’s the reason she won any of her awards. It is a good short story, and fairly inexpensive on its own. If your interest has been piqued, or if you’re a fan of Alice Munro and/or short stories in general it is likely worth looking into.

I always get the version where no good cover image is readily available

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