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Dear Life – Alice Munro

Dear Life - Alice Munro

Dear Life – Alice Munro

I do like Munro’s short stories – here, here and here.

Here is the blurb …

Alice Munro captures the essence of life in her brilliant new collection of stories. Moments of change, chance encounters,the twist of fate that leads a person off the accustomed path and on to a new way of thinking and being: the stories in Dear Life build to form a radiant, indelible portrait of just how dangerous and strange ordinary life can be.

Many of these stories are grounded in Munro’s home territory – the small Canadian towns around Lake Huron – but there are departures too. A poet, finding herself in alien territory at her first literary party, is rescued by a seasoned Newspaper editor, and is soon hurtling across the continent, young child in tow, towards a hoped for but completely unplanned meeting. A young soldier, returning to his fiancee from the Second World War steps off the train before his stop and onto the farm of another woman beginning a life on the move.

The book ends with four powerful pieces, ‘autobiographical in feeling’, set during the time of Munro’s own childhood, in the area where she grew up. Munro describes this quartet as ‘not quite stories’ but ‘the first and last – and the closest – things I have to say about my own life’. Suffused with Munro’s clarity of vision and her unparalleled gift for storytelling, these and the other stories in Dear Life are cause for celebration.

Munro is the master of making the ordinary extraordinary. Her stories are about small lives – mostly living in rural communities – but they grapple with ‘big’ emotions: loneliness, betrayal, despair, unexpected kindness.

This book consists of 14 stories (I had read one before Amundsen) and the cover a range of themes – love, aging, adultery, society expectations. Munro’s prose is simple, but compelling I didn’t want any of the stories to finish – particularly Corrie (how could everything continue as before after such a betrayal). Munro highlights what most people (the majority of people) will and do put up with in their lives. These aren’t grand sweeping epics, but finely detailed miniatures.

I especially enjoyed the references to L M Montgomery’s work – there is this in The Eye…

And in my interpretation of the picture that hung at the foot of my bed, showing Jesus suffering the little children to come unto him. Suffering meant something different in those days, but that was not what we concentrated on. My mother pointed out the little girl half hiding round a corner because she wanted to come to Jesus but was too shy.

Reminds me of this in Anne of Green Gables

 “That,” she said, pointing to the picture—a rather vivid chromo entitled, “Christ Blessing Little Children”—”and I was just imagining I was one of them—that I was the little girl in the blue dress, standing off by herself in the corner as if she didn’t belong to anybody, like me. She looks lonely and sad, don’t you think? I guess she hadn’t any father or mother of her own. But she wanted to be blessed, too, so she just crept shyly up on the outside of the crowd, hoping nobody would notice her—except Him. I’m sure I know just how she felt. Her heart must have beat and her hands must have got cold, like mine did when I asked you if I could stay. She was afraid He mightn’t notice her. But it’s likely He did, don’t you think? I’ve been trying to imagine it all out—her edging a little nearer all the time until she was quite close to Him; and then He would look at her and put His hand on her hair and oh, such a thrill of joy as would run over her! But I wish the artist hadn’t painted Him so sorrowful looking. All His pictures are like that, if you’ve noticed. But I don’t believe He could really have looked so sad or the children would have been afraid of Him.”

And there was references to Anne of Green Gables and Pat of Silver Bush in Dear Life and how Anne must have ignored the manure as she did.

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New Selected Stories – Alice Munro

When I heard there was a new Alice Munro collection, I just had to read it. Although it is not really new, it’s a new collection of existing stories.

Here is the blurb …

 Spanning almost thirty years and settings that range from big cities to small towns and farmsteads of rural Canada, this magnificent collection brings together twenty-eight stories by a writer of unparalleled wit, generosity, and emotional power. In her Selected Stories, Alice Munro makes lives that seem small unfold until they are revealed to be as spacious as prairies and locates the moments of love and betrayal, desire and forgiveness, that change those lives forever. To read these stories–about a traveling salesman and his children on an impromptu journey; an abandoned woman choosing between seduction and solitude–is to succumb to the spell of a writer who enchants her readers utterly even as she restores them to their truest selves.

In this review, I said collecting stories with a similar theme lessons the impact of each story. However, this collection is an overview of Munro’s work – there are stories from several of her previous collection. I think this is a much better arrangement and if you could buy just one collection, I would recommend this one.

As always, these stories are beautifully written, insightful and character driven.

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Too Much Happiness – Alice Munro

I’ve been on a bit of an Alice Munro fest.

Here is the blurb …

 Ten superb new stories by one of our most beloved and admired writers – the winner of the 2009 Man Booker International Prize.

In the first story a young wife and mother receives release from the unbearable pain of losing her three children from a most surprising source. In another, a young woman, in the aftermath of an unusual and humiliating seduction, reacts in a clever if less-than-admirable fashion. Other stories uncover the ‘deep-holes’ in a marriage, the unsuspected cruelty of children, and how a boy’s disfigured face provides both the good things in his life and the bad. And in the long title story, we accompany Sophia Kovalevsky – a late-nineteenth-century Russian émigré and mathematician – on a winter journey that takes her from the Riviera, where she visits her lover, to Paris, Germany, and, Denmark, where she has a fateful meeting with a local doctor, and finally to Sweden, where she teaches at the only university in Europe willing to employ a female mathematician.

With clarity and ease, Alice Munro once again renders complex, difficult events and emotions into stories that shed light on the unpredictable ways in which men and women accommodate and often transcend what happens in their lives.

Too Much Happiness is a compelling, provocative – even daring – collection.

This set of stories is classic Munro. Although, once again, I think collecting the stories by theme lessens their impact. They all end up being a bit too similar.

I found the big story in this one (about Sophia Kovalevsky) dragged a bit. I’m not sure why this is the case it sounds so interesting – a female mathematician in the 19th Century and she has a lover, but it was my least favourite of the stories.

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Runaway – Alice Munro

I’m still getting through my holiday reading – in case anyone thinks I’m reading books in one day!

I really like Alice Munro’s short stories. I’ve read  Too Much Happiness (check back later for a review of that one) and Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship and Marriage. I was keen to check Runaway out when I saw it at the library.

Here is the blurb …

 A collection of stories about women of all ages and circumstances, their lives made palpable by the subtlety and empathy of this writer. Here are the infinite betrayals and surprise of love – between men and women, between friends, between parents and children – that are the stuff of all our lives. Alice Munro is the award-winning novelist, and has published ten previous collections of stories.

As always these stories are full of fabulous characters (very ordinary everyday people) dealing with difficult, interesting or just plain mundane circumstances. Munro has an uncanny knack of expressing her character’s inner lives – the good and the bad – which astonishes me. It is unusual to have things that you think are uniquely yours expressed in a novel.

My one criticism is the way the stories are collected. I know it makes sense to collect like with like, but I find each story loses it’s impact when it is surrounded by similar stories. I would prefer an eclectic mix of all of her stories.

More reviews …

From The Guardian http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2005/feb/05/featuresreviews.guardianreview 

and the New York Times http://www.nytimes.com/2004/11/14/books/review/14COVERFR.html?pagewanted=all 

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