Open Secrets is a collection of short stories all revolving around the small town of Carstairs, Canada, and most of them connected more or less remotely with Douds, its main factory. These stories range between the settlement of Carstairs in the 1850’s to the present day. All involve women as main characters, and instead of narrating a particular event in their lives as most short stories do, they radiate instead from this event, to encompass their whole lives. Often the story also concerns itself with a secondary character, also a woman, whose fate is connected to the main female character in one way or another, and sometimes paralleled with it.

The first story, Carried Away, is the story of an unconventional librarian, Louisa, who settles in Carstairs because a job becomes available here. She becomes involved in an epistolary relationship with a young man from Carstairs fighting in WWI, who claims he has been secretly admiring her from afar before the war. When the war is over, and all the soldiers have returned home, he still hasn’t come to meet her…
Carried Away is about life and the choices we make, the regrets we have and all the could-have-beens we are faced with as years go by…

In A Real Life, Dorrie lives alone in a cabin in the wilderness, killing and skinning wild animals for a living. She attracts the attention of a rich Australian who wants to marry her and take her back to Australia. Dorrie has her doubts, but Millicent, her friend, tries to convince her that a woman is nothing outside marriage, although hers is far from fulfilling her. A Real Life is about what is expected from a woman in a small town in the 1930’s, and about what is a life fulfilled…

The Albanian Virgin is the story of Lottar, an English woman captured by an Albanian tribe during a touristy trip. She has to conform to a primitive culture alien to her own until a Franciscan Father prevents her from being given away to a Muslim husband. The story, that may or may not be the story of her life, is told as a fiction by Charlotte, an eccentric old woman, to the keeper of a bookshop, who has a story of her own. It is about how life and its whims change the path we are on, altering our fate forever, and also about the bonds of love and sexual attraction…

Open Secrets is an unsolved mystery about a young woman, Heather Bell, who disappears from a Sunday Church outing. Maureen Stephens, the  lawyer’s life, and Frances, her cousin and employee, discuss what could have happened to her, but a couple narrates a story that directs the suspicions towards an ageing widower. Through Maureen’s thoughts and memories, we discover that there may be more perverts in Carstairs than are known of… Open Secrets explores one’s painful secrets, showing that respectability and good reputation can hide a heart of darkness…

In The Jack Randa Hotel, Gail, a woman who has been left by her husband for a younger woman, follows him months later to Australia, where he went to live, and answers a letter from him not destined to her. Her interference in her ex-husband’s privacy will have unexpected results. The Jack Randa Hotel is about obsession and revenge and the resilience of ties, and also about second chances…

A Wilderness Station is the story of a young orphan sent to Carstairs, then only a settlement, to be the wife of Simon Herron, who turns out to be a violent man. When Simon dies in an accident, versions of what happened seem to differ. A Wilderness Station is a story of survival and resilience, the story of a woman always looking for a shelter.

Spaceships Have Landed is the story of Rhea, girlfriend of Billy Doud and her friend Eunie, a colorful and simple character. In a single evening, they will both change their lives, one by cheating on her boyfriend with his friend Wayne, and the other by narrating a strange tale that other will interpret as alien abduction. Spaceships Have Landed is about how a single event can forever alter a path taken, and also a testimony of a time when the wall between social class starts to disintegrate.

Vandals is the story of a Lisa, a young woman who trashes the house of Bea Doud, because she has unresolved feelings about her. On the one hand Bea has always been there for her, paying for college and being a friend, but on the other hand, she has been blind to the ambiguous relationship her companion, Ladner, had with Lisa…

Alice Munro takes women at different stages of their lives, which all revolve around a single event, sometimes traumatic, sometimes something as simple as a choice or a decision taken, but all having repercussions on the women’s whole lives. Munro’s women have in common a certain freedom of mind, sometimes a resolution not to be contained by men’s rules, or at least if complying to them, they manage to take advantage of very difficult situations, never being victims. Although I am not particularly fond of short stories (I usually prefer the comfort of staying a little while with characters and situations rather than having to start all over again getting acquainted with new characters), and of destinies resembling everyday lives, I like Open Secrets a lot maybe because as I said, there is a rebel in every woman featured in these stories, preventing them from becoming victims despite the awful situations they sometimes find themselves in…  My personal favorites are The Albanian Virgin and The jack Randa Hotel. I enjoyed the fact that the author, who writes very well, is also very imaginative in the narration of her stories, sometimes inserting letter exchanges, or narrating from the present back to the past, or else alternating between different perspectives, and also different stories. This makes for a lively storytelling, at times harder to keep up with, without the boredom that could derive from a linear storytelling. I will certainly be looking for other short stories by Alice Munro…

Rating: 4/5