Tuesday, January 8, 2013
I've been reading Alice Munro for more than four decades, and she's been publishing for more than six.
A true master of the form and still going strong, her fan base includes several Pulitzer Prize winners. Jeffrey Eugenides says of her collection 'The Love of a Good Woman' that there is not one story in there that is not perfect. Cynthia Ozick has dubbed her the Chekov of our times. Margaret Atwood says, "Alice Munro is among the major writers of English fiction of our time... Among writers themselves, her name is spoken in hushed tones." (Incidentally, both Munro and Atwood were nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2012 and although richly deserved, unfortunately, neither won.)
A Munro short story feels intimate and authentic. I love her insights into small town life, coming-of-age, twists of fate. I listened to an interview with her once, where she admitted drawing her ideas and details from first-hand experience. Portraits and characters were based on the lives around her, and she said most people didn't have an inkling when she borrowed bits of their personalities or fates because she changed them just enough to be unattributable. A fine art, indeed.
Atwood has shrewdly noted that 'pushing the sexual boundaries is distinctly thrilling for many a Munro woman', and this collection is no exception. Two stories in particular stand out in this vein, "To Reach Japan," and "Corrie," either of which would make an outstanding film about the nature of love and fidelity. It's happened before, with Sarah Polley's movie 'Away from Her' based on the short story 'The Bear Came Over the Mountain'.
In Dear Life, there are four stories at the end that "... are the first and last - and the closest - things I have to say about my own life." This unit of stories will likely keep Canadian Literature grad students busy for years to come as they draw parallels between fact and fiction.
The closing line in Dear Life..... We say of some things that they can't be forgiven, or that we will never forgive ourselves. But we do - we do it all the time.
I wonder if that is part of Munro's creative process, to look back at life's moments and use them as a springboard, and to wonder 'what if?' 'What if' a different choice was made? 'What if' things happened in a different time or place, to different people, under different circumstances? To work that magic, and simultaneously love the people enough, and change the people enough, to be so True to Life.