Have just finished the latest collection of Alice Munro’s short stories Dear Life. I am partial to a good short story, I know a lot of of people don’t like the form but if you are going to try again then Canadian Alice Munro is the place to start. She is a short story ninja, and widely regarded as one of North America’s very best fiction writers in any form – this latest collection is fantastic.
Once again Munro explores the lives of characters living in small towns around Lake Huron, capturing the moment when a life changes: the soldier returning from the war who gets off the train before he reaches his hometown and fiancee, and follows the tracks until he comes across a farm, the woman watching her husband meet an old love again, the quiet disfigured bookkeeper who chooses not to seize life with both hands. There are lots of arrivals and departures, accidents, dangers, reactions and missed opportunities that suddenly flip or subtly slip the characters off of one path, one expected life, on to another, a life unexpected, either because they do or don’t react. This isn’t sad or distressing, the new path isn’t necessarily worse, just different.
The stories are often poignant but not sentimental, seemingly concerned with small lives and events but they pack quite an emotional wallop. There is a clarity to her writing which is remarkable, her characters feel very ‘true’.
One thing I really found interesting were the four stories at the end – there is a note from her saying these are autobiographical, and the first and last writing she is probably going to do on her own life. These last four stories are just incredible, her cool gaze and beautiful prose turned on her own dear life.