Sunday, September 22, 2013

Dear Life

Reading Alice Munro’s collection of short stories has been a sweet delight. She knows how to build suspense and how to make it escalate. Secondly, the characters feel real. She reveals the intricacies and quirks of human thoughts and lives. Her stories extort behaviors from the depths of human idiosyncrasies.
    I’ve also noticed that she evokes strong emotions in the reader—she made me sad or angry at the characters at times. Some of them are likeable and it’s easy to empathize with them and to feel deeply touched by their circumstances and situations. Others are not so likeable. For instance, there is a poet in a passionless marriage who gets obsessed with another man, and in giving way to her impulses she forsakes her little daughter. (This is the first story of the collection; it is called “To Reach Japan”). I couldn’t put it down till the end.
   The second story, “Amundsen”, is about a teacher who goes to work to a rural area where tuberculosis is prevalent. Then she becomes engaged to a doctor whose intentions are not as benign as we believe they are.
   Another unforgettable story is “Leaving Maverly”. It is about a girl who had a very strict religious upbringing in a small town. Yet, as time goes by, we learn that the outcome of this strict upbringing is quite a surprise.
   “Haven” is another story that I enjoyed. It is about a childless couple: a doctor and his wife. They are taking care of their niece -- the narrator-- whose parents are in Africa, working as volunteers. The wife has a docile personality and she lives to serve her husband. She is never upset, and everything she does seems to revolve around her husband’s life.
   “Dolly” is also one of my favorite stories. A mathematics teacher decides to stay at home writing entertaining biographies of Canadian novelists that have been neglected.  One day she discovers that she needs some company and opens the door to a stranger: a woman with a load of cosmetics.
    The subtle hints of social criticism she instills, through provocative comments, in some of her stories caught my attention. I will give you examples:
 “It would become hard to explain, later on in her life, just what was okay in that time and what was not. You might say, well, feminism was not. But then you would have to explain that feminism was not even a word people used. Then you would get all tied up saying that having any serious idea, let alone ambition, or maybe even reading a real book, could be seen as suspect, having something to do with your child’s getting pneumonia, and a political remark at an office party might have cost your husband his promotion. It would not have mattered which political party either. It was her woman’s shooting off her mouth that did it”.
  “It wasn't just her big bones and her big white nose, and the violin and the somewhat silly way you had to hold it—it was the music itself and her devotion to it. Devotion to anything, if you were female, could make you ridiculous.”
  There are fourteen stories in this collection, so I’m not going to comment on all of them, but “Dear Life” includes a unique gift: four of the stories are autobiographical. This is what Alice Munro says about them:
  “The final four works in this book are not quite stories. They form a separate unit, one that is autobiographical in feeling, though not, sometimes, entirely so in fact. I believe they are the first and last—and the closest—things I have to say about my own life.”
    Alice Munro’s characters stayed with me after I’d finished her stories -- as if I had met some of them in person -- and the scenes were so vivid that now I feel I have been in the stories myself.
     I also like the fact that some of her fictional stories are populated by characters that have an interest in books, writing, or some kind of art. It helps me to feel a deeper connection to them.
  Last but not least, Alice Munro breaks every single “rule of writing fiction”. I am referring to the "imaginary" rules that linger in literary groups and workshops. Her writing debunks all those myths. It captivates and enthralls me. Thank you, Alice Munro.

   Alice Munro is the winner of the 2009 Man Booker International Prize for her lifetime body of work. She’s also a three-time winner of Canada’s Governor General’s Award for fiction and a perennial contender for the Nobel Prize.


  1. I've heard of her but never read anything by her. Now I will.

  2. I must get this book!!! Thanks for the review and intro, Julia! take care

  3. Richard and Old Kitty:
    Thank you for reading my post and for commenting on it. If you get to read this book, let me know what you think about it.

  4. Hi Julia .. I don't think I'd heard of her .. so thanks for highlighting her achievements and the way she writes ..

    Cheers Hilary

  5. Hi Julia,

    Here I am, fashionably late :) If she can evoke strong emotions in you then that's the sign of a darned good writer. I must check out Alice.

    Hugs and wishing you a peaceful day,


  6. If Gary is fashionably late, I come to the party after the food is gone, dishes washed and guests ready to leave. Always a day late and a buck short.... me.
    That is a stimulating and beckoning book review. I love the magic of your writing, inviting one in. I rarely read fiction but you make it sound so enchanting that I want to read it. Thank you dear Julia.

    1. Thank you for your encouraging words, Manzanita.
      Don't worry about being late to the party. The party is still going. It's never late to jump in!

  7. Hi Julia - well you picked the right person here didn't you - she's just won the Nobel Prize for Literature ... well done!!!!! Now I do need to look her up and read some works .. cheers Hilary

    1. I did pick the right person. I felt really happy. I was just reading another one of her books when I learned about this.


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