Saturday, February 23, 2013

Stories Worth Grasping for Dear Life

Dear Life: Stories by Alice Munro
(Douglas Gibson Books, 2012)
Format: ebook via library

From Goodreads: "With her peerless ability to give us the essence of a life in often brief but spacious and timeless stories, Alice Munro illumines the moment a life is shaped -- the moment a dream, or sex, or perhaps a simple twist of fate turns a person out of his or her accustomed path and into another way of being. Suffused with Munro's clarity of vision and her unparalleled gift for storytelling, these stories (set in the world Munro has made her own: the countryside and towns around Lake Huron) about departures and beginnings, accidents, dangers, and homecomings both virtual and real, paint a vivid and lasting portrait of how strange, dangerous, and extraordinary the ordinary life can be."

Short stories aren't always my cup of tea. (I adore tea, BTW. A cup of tea is always my cup of tea.) Short stories ask so much of the reader in such a short space, if they're done well, but if they're not, well, it's cheating, isn't it? The writer just not having a book's worth of conversation to have with me, but not making the shorter chat weighty and worth my time.

(Sometimes I am hard to please. And judgmental.)

Anyway, Munro never does that. The only problem I have with reading Munro is that she reminds me of why I get impatient with non-Munro short story writers sometimes. Also, I want to stop after each one and reflect and reread and relish, but I also want to race forward to the next one. It's all giddy-girl with her first crush, me and these stories. The quiet but essential inner lives of the characters, the spotlight nature of small town inhabitants never not in each other's business, the language! Munro's language is simple and precise, incisive, alive.

I was going to tell you my favorite stories so you could dip in if you don't believe me, but it would just be the first ten items on the table of contents. Maybe Amundsen or Gravel, but they all sang to me, so I'm not going to choose. I will say that the final quartet of stories, which she sets apart with a note about them being more autobiographical, are my least favorite in this collection.

That said, even in those, Munro's turn of phrase seemed designed, at times, to shoot arrows of self-realization at me. I mean, could this sum up my own child's play any more smoothly:

  • From Night, describing the games of her younger sister: "These tended towards domesticity rather than glamour."

Or this, my suspicion about how I'm viewed today:

  • From Voices, describing why her mother didn't always fit in: "I think people found her pushy and overly grammatical."

This is one of the nominees in the Tournament of Books and I'm looking forward to the discussion about it. Unless people don't say nice things about it, and then I'll get judgmental on them.

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