Dear Life by Alice Munro – book review

0

by Edith Cody-Rice

In some ways there is little more to say about Alice Munro. She has been described as peerless, one of the great  20th century writers, North America’s own Chekov. It has been said that readers of the New Yorker, in which she regularly publishes, are more familiar with south western Ontario than they are with their own midwest. Munro’s stories are universal, partly because they are so determinedly local and specific. She talks about Wingham, Kincardine, Lake Erie, Kitchener. Her readers are familiar with Huntsville. Yet her prose is globally admired, although she makes no attempt to make her stories global.

Munro is a fine writer, using spare prose and she recognizes the power of what is not expressed, barely even suggested. In her stories there is frequently a surprise that illuminates the situation, or more often, the character.  We find that what seems a sexually innocent mother is not so innocent after all, or why a character jumps from a train in the initial sentences of a story. Her stories are not large, most often nothing out of the ordinary happens, yet, they are large in reach and spirit, revealing the human condition in all of its contradictions. A short story by Alice Munro is worth a novel by someone else.

A remarkable aspect is that Munro’s stories are told in a straightforward manner, almost reportage, with no verbal pyrotechnics, yet the craft is in the choice of the simple language. Her prose is completely accessible.

Dear Life, Munro’s newly published book of 14 short stories continues her focus on the life immediately around her. She lives in Clinton Ontario and rarely does a story take place outside the surrounding locale. She is in her eighties now, and her stories frequently look back to a time in the mid twentieth century that is immediately recognizable to those over 50, although attractive to much younger readers.  This would be a welcome Christmas gift under any reader’s tree.

Dear Life is published by McLelland and Stewart