Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Alice Munro

For Christmas, I asked for and received "Dear Life" by Alice Munro.

Munro is my favorite writer.  Idol is perhaps not too strong a word.

It's hard to articulate what makes her writing so meaningful to me, but there's just something about it that makes the ordinary interesting and surprising.  Her insights into the true nature of people always seem on target.  Her characterization is usually accomplished with the right number of words.  She suggests without overtelling.

Munro is a Canadian, and her writing has a regional slant, but, of course, there is a universality in her characters, many of which feature women or young girls coming of age. 

Munro has won many honors, including the United States' National Book Critics Circle Award and the Man Booker International Prize.  Her short stories get published in The New Yorker, the Atlantic Monthly, and Harper's Magazine--the crème de la crème of national magazines that publish short fiction.  The American writer Cynthia Ozick has dubbed her "Our Chekhov."  Her story "The Bear came over the Mountain" was adapted for a critically-acclaimed film, "Away From Her."

One thing that particularly interests me is that she has made her considerable reputation almost solely with short stories.  I believe she has written only one novel.

I was somewhat disappointed that "Dear Life" included stories from previous collections.  I was looking forward to an entire book of new stories, but, of course, being the fan that I am, I reread the older stories and once again found them thrilling

The last part of the book features four works that are "autobiographical in feeling, though not, sometimes entirely so in fact."   They portray a young woman who is forming her own identity and growing apart from her family.  Sometimes, she suffered "beatings" from her father with a belt when she sassed her mother.   Though she mitigates this physical punishment somewhat by saying it was not uncommon at that time, it seems surely true that  the humiliation probably played a role in her disaffection.  And I would bet that those incidents were autobiographical.

I daresay that most writers have an idol about whom they might say, "If I could write like anyone, it would be __________________."  I would complete the sentence with Alice Munro.