In 2006, the story “The Bear Came over the Mountain” was adapted into a film, Away from Her, directed by Sarah Polley and produced by Atom Egoyan. Following the release of this film, the collection was republished under the title Away from Her.
- “Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage”: Johanna, a plain, poor, unmarried woman, works as a housekeeper for Mr. McCauley and his granddaughter Sabitha. Sabitha’s mother is dead, and her father, Ken Boudreau, lives elsewhere in poverty, frequently pleading with his father-in-law for money. She is friends with Edith, a blacksmith’s daughter who feels bored with her constricting blue-collar lifestyle. Edith devises a hoax in which she and Sabitha forge love letters from Sabitha’s father to Johanna. Johanna, convinced by the letters that Ken will marry her, uses her substantial savings to travel to his remote location in rural Canada. She discovers that Ken has fallen ill, and, lovingly, she nurses him back to health. Having realized that Ken cannot control his own life, Johanna takes charge and arranges for them to start a new life. Ken, impressed by Johanna’s resolve and by her savings, does not question her decisions. Several years later, Edith learns that Ken and Johanna have married and had a child. She is confused by the consequences of her hoax, but soon focuses once more on her desire to escape her parents’ lifestyle and show everyone who she really is.
- “Floating Bridge”: Jinny, a middle-aged woman with cancer, travels with her husband Neal from a medical appointment. She has received startling news, but her husband does not appear concerned. Instead, Neal flirts with Helen, the young woman whom they have hired to help around the house while Jinny undergoes chemotherapy. He insists that they pick up Helen’s shoes from the home of her friends even though Jinny wants to return home immediately. Jinny refuses to leave the car when they arrive at the friends’ trailer home, but Neal decides to join them for a meal. She thinks over what she learned from the doctor: her cancer, which she had assumed to be fatal, is receding. Eventually, the friends’ teenage son Ricky approaches Jinny in the car. Jinny allows him to drive her away into the fields, where they kiss on a floating bridge. This small act of retaliation against Neal rejuvenates Jinny, who now feels able to face the possibility of her survival.
- “Family Furnishings”: The narrator reminisces about Alfrida, her father’s nonconformist cousin who worked as an advice columnist in the city. Alfrida seems urbane and sophisticated to the young narrator, who views her with admiration. Once the narrator attends college, however, she distances herself from Alfrida and avoids her frequent dinner invitations. The narrator’s only visit to Alfrida is marked by the narrator’s condescension toward Alfrida’s poverty and lack of cultivation. The dinner, however, does make one lasting impression. Alfrida recalls how her mother died of severe burns caused by an exploding lamp. She had wanted to see her mother but was denied by relatives; Alfrida responded by saying that her mother would have wanted to see her if their places were reversed. Later in life, the narrator transforms this incident into a short story that offends the elderly Alfrida. She receives no more information about Alfrida until Alfrida’s illegitimate daughter appears at the funeral of the narrator’s father. The daughter tells the narrator that Alfrida grudgingly admired the narrator’s writing, although Alfrida thought that the narrator wasn’t as smart as she thought she was. This revelation causes the narrator to return to the evening of her last dinner with her father’s cousin. Afterward she had gone to a coffee shop where, drinking the coffee and watching the middle-class men and women around her, the narrator had thought that this was what she truly wanted out of life.
- “Comfort”: Nina returns home to discover that her husband Lewis, a retired science teacher, has committed suicide. He had developed a neurological disorder, and he and Nina had planned the suicide to avoid unnecessary suffering. Nina, however, did not expect him to die while she was away, and unsuccessfully searches the room for a suicide note. She notifies medical authorities, but eliminates any evidence of suicide. Lewis, an aggressive atheist, had been forced to resign for refusing to teach creationism, and he did not want his enemies to think he killed himself as a result. Nina entrusts the funeral arrangements to Ed, a local undertaker whom she once kissed at a party. While embalming the body, Ed discovers a small note in Lewis’s pocket that he gives to Nina. Instead of the expected farewell, it contains satirical verse that ridicules Lewis’s creationist adversaries. Nina spreads Lewis’s ashes outside of town, where she experiences a sense of newfound comfort as she rids herself of her deceased husband’s remains.
- “Post and Beam”
- “What is Remembered”
- “The Bear Came Over the Mountain”: Grant, a retired university professor, and his wife, Fiona, have been together for decades. Their marriage has been mostly happy, although Grant’s frequent affairs have deeply hurt his wife. But Fiona develops Alzheimer’s disease, forcing Grant to commit her to a nursing home. After a thirty-day waiting period, Grant visits Fiona and discovers that she has forgotten him and initiated a relationship with another patient, Aubrey. He wonders whether this affair might not be revenge for his former affairs, but Grant accepts it as unavoidable. Eventually, however, Aubrey’s wife Marian withdraws Aubrey from the home. Fiona’s condition quickly deteriorates, and Grant confronts Marian, pleading with her to let Aubrey see Fiona. Marian refuses, citing the difficulty of handling Aubrey and her own scant financial resources; Grant also perceives that Marian feels alone without her husband. Disappointed, Grant returns home, but finds that Marian has since invited him to a singles’ dance. He realizes that a relationship with Marian will enable him to reunite Aubrey and Fiona, and he accepts. Grant soon visits Fiona to inform her that Aubrey will see her again. Fiona, however, has briefly recovered her memory and recognizes her husband. She accuses him of leaving her behind, to which he responds, “Not a chance.”