Alice Munro is so beloved by short story writers – so canonized, admired, studied, sanctified – that it’s easy to forget what a deeply strange writer she can be. Friend of My Youth – the book, and the title story – came out as I was graduating from my MFA program. It was probably the first Munro story that I read over and over, trying to see how it was constructed. It begins in dreams – the narrator dreaming of her mother, now dead, alive and healthy – and then follows her mother to her youth, and then to a farm where she boarded as a young school teacher. Time, as is often is the case in Alice Munro stories, is a series of trap doors. The very ending is so strange, and yet so breathtaking, that I will leave it there for you to discover. There are stories that I love that are easily explicable, but the stories on my list for A Personal Anthology aren’t. Perhaps I wanted to make things hard for myself. Perhaps I only want you to read them. Here’s a mystery; please don’t solve it.
First published in The New Yorker January 14, 1990; collected in Friend of My Youth, Knopf/Vintage, 1990, and Selected Stories, 1997