The Beggar Maid: Stories of Flo and Rose, by Alice Munro, is a compelling book, filled with amazing stories that this reader enveloped herself in, from the first page until the last page.
The stories are connected by both Flo and Rose, two main characters the reader sees depicted throughout the pages. Their lives are depicted with masterful imagery, and with detailed visuals into their thoughts and feelings.
Flo is Rose’s stepmother, a determined, somewhat brash and arrogant woman. She is seen in the first story as a woman who has a love/hate relationship with Rose. One minute she is verbally forcing Rose’s father to physically punish her, the next minute she is showing extreme compassion, and stating that the punishment went a bit overboard. She is in an awkward situation, yet one she has created herself.
Rose, in the same first story, is very aware of Flo’s mindset. She is also a determined young girl, and even with all of her insecurities, is emotionally strong when it comes to her dreams, and filled with goals that don’t necessarily meet Flo’s expectations. Flo doesn’t value education, and prefers the comfort and security of her small-town life, where she can gossip about everyone, and where she fits in like a glove.
As he matures, her life takes on new forms, and she becomes experimental with sexual trysts. These often feel as if she is in control, yet she is not, and becomes confused regarding love and sex, often mixing up the differences. She is unsure of herself, although she seems to be a woman of strength, with no conflicting issues. Inside of her is a woman struggling with interacting with men, with the differences in social class/stratum, and with herself and identity.
The stories take place over four decades, and we see each one grow into their own, especially Rose. They become friends, and have a strong bond, one that accepts the other, flaws and all. There is no judging. Towards the end of Flo’s life, Rose becomes her caretaker.
I can not stress enough the brilliance with which Munro writes a story, and these stories are incredible jewels. Like diamonds, the stories’ facets illuminate life, life in a small town, life that is often stifling, and life that contains both the hardships, goal oriented cravings, sad moments, and joys that occur in the lives of not only Flo and Rose, but those within their life.
Small town life is depicted with sensitivity yet conciseness. The fact that Munro exhibits minute details, details that at first seem micro in concept, actually are a necessary part of the whole, the entirety. Without them the lives within the exceptional short stories would not blend together with perfect precision. The fact that they do is a tribute to Munro’s brilliant display within the stories. In fact, the stories connect in such a fashion that they could almost be defined as a novel, instead of linked or joined stories.
I recommend The Beggar Maid: Stories of Flo and Rose, by Alice Munro to those who like to read in depth perspectives of ordinary individuals living ordinary lives. Yet, within the ordinariness lies the extraordinary perceptions and illuminations the reader is shown, quite vividly.
As an aside-I can totally comprehend whey Alice Munro was awarded the Nobel Prize Prize in Literature, in October 2013.