Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Munro, Alice (Dear Life: Stories)

Alice Munro's collections usually knock me for a loop. They pack so much emotion into such spare, non-emotional phrasings that you are taken unawares by their power. There's no one else who can write about life - in the definitive slice-of-life mode - and make it seem as if you are living this life at the same time as the character being described. You are almost literally sucked into their world. Then - the chapter ends, and instead of feeling as if you've lost a best friend, you sock that story away in your heart and become immersed in the next one.

Munro writes about people who have made a wrong turn. Those turns are understandable, and the people are sympathetic. You almost don't wince to read about the wrongs they've done, you just become them as they journey - for a while - down the wrong path. And it either makes you feel better about yourself or worse. Either way, it's worth it.

With this collection, I didn't feel this as intensely. The endings of the stories felt more obvious, and I could see them coming for some time. Obviously, that lessens their emotional punch. They still live in my heart - the first story is still rattling around in there - but they aren't supplanting previous story collections.

However! And it's a big however. The last four stories are about her own life. Some perhaps not wholly factual, as she says, but it was clear to me as I started them that I've been dying to know more about her own life, especially her own childhood. Because that simply has to be a large factor in how she perceives the world and the people in it. Her reminiscences of town and country life in the 30s and 40s in Canada, her perceptions of herself at that time, the world as she viewed it then, and in particular her memories of her mother. These last four absolutely pack a special kind of wallop.

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