Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage
(2001) is a collection of nine short stories by Nobel Prize-winning Canadian author Alice Munro exploring the complexities of the human heart, featuring characters grappling with major changes and life-altering scenarios in their interpersonal relationships. Like all Munro tales, the collection is mostly set in rural Canada. Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage
received numerous accolades, including the Los Angeles Times
Book Prize for Fiction; a nomination for the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction; and appearances on both The New York Times
magazine best-of fiction lists.
The title story opens the book, centering on a hoax that has unexpected results. In southern Ontario, Johanna, a poor spinster is a housekeeper for an elderly man and his granddaughter, Sabitha. Sabitha spends time with her friend Edith, a working-class woman frustrated with her economic lot in life. Sabitha's mother has died, and Sabitha's father, Ken, lives in rural Canada where he struggles with money problems. To amuse themselves, Edith and Sabitha decide to toy with Johanna, writing her love letters as if they were from Ken. Johanna falls for the cruel trick, coming to believe that Ken will marry her. She spends her life savings to go to be with him. Once there, she finds his health failing. Devoting herself to his care, she restores him to stability. However, in the process, she learns that—between his financial problems and his health—Ken cannot manage on his own. Johanna takes over and plans a life for them together, and Ken agrees to it. Years go by, and Edith receives word that Johanna and Ken are now married and parents to a child. Edith, shocked that the hoax turned out in such a way, grows more determined to escape the cycle of poverty and prove herself as a person of character and accomplishment.
A woman with cancer confronts the possibility of a new life and a second chance in the story "Floating Bridge." Jinny and her husband, Neal, have just received stunning news from Jinny's doctor. As they drive away from the doctor's office, Jinny contemplates what she has learned, while Neal flirts openly with Helen, a home health aide who works for Jinny and who has come along with them to the appointment. They stop at the home of Helen's foster parents. Neal and Helen go inside, while Jinny remains in the car, continuing to mull over the doctor's news. He told her that her cancer is in remission. Jinny had expected the cancer to kill her, so the idea of survival was not something she had anticipated. Then, Ricky, the teenage son of Helen's foster parents, gets into the car with Jinny, and the two drive out into the countryside. They steal a kiss, which, for Jinny, feels doubly uplifting: revenge for Neal's flirtation with Helen, and a prospect for new adventures in a life she previously thought was over.
"Comfort" finds Nina discovering the body of her husband, Lewis, who has committed suicide while she was out of the house. The suicide is not entirely a surprise; Lewis had a terminal illness, and they had planned that he would kill himself to prevent a long and painful decline. Nevertheless, Nina did not think he would do it so soon and when she was not home. After searching fruitlessly for a suicide note, she cleans up the scene, removing any indications of suicide. Lewis had recently been fired from his teaching job for refusing to teach creationism, and Nina does not want people to think that his firing led him to kill himself. While Ed, a funeral director with whom Nina once shared a flirtation, works on Lewis's body, he finds a note in Lewis's pocket and gives it to Nina. Instead of a farewell message or an explanation, it is a snarky comment about creationists. After the cremation, Nina disperses Lewis's ashes in the countryside, an act that brings her comfort and closure.
"The Bear Came over the Mountain" is the tale of an aging couple faced with an Alzheimer's disease diagnosis—and the many ways it changes their relationship. Grant and Fiona are a longtime married couple, and though Grant's fidelity waned at times, the union has remained stable and loving. After doctors diagnose Fiona with Alzheimer's, her health declines, and Grant ultimately must put her in a nursing home. When he goes to visit her there, Fiona has forgotten who he is and has formed a relationship with another resident, Aubrey. Grant reluctantly accepts the relationship as a sort of cosmic payback for all of his own affairs. After Aubrey's wife, Marian, removes Aubrey from the home, Fiona is distraught. Grant soon devises a way for Fiona and Aubrey to see one another again: He, Grant, will start a relationship with Marian. When he tells Fiona she will reunite with Aubrey, she has a rare moment of clarity, in which she recognizes Grant. She questions why he would even stand by her in such a situation, but he tells her that he would never forsake her.
The other stories in this collection are "Family Furnishings," "Nettles," "Post and Beam," "What Is Remembered," and "Queenie."
All the tales in Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage
serve as a reminder that human relationships are rarely easy, but their rewards can be nourishing and enduring. While the mysteries of the heart may never be totally understood, the bonds we form with others in a relationship often make the weight of the uncertainties more bearable. As Munro herself once said, "Moments of kindness and reconciliation are worth having, even if the parting has to come sooner or later."