By: Alice Munro
Format/Source: Paperback; my purchase
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.
My first Alice Munro book! I had long heard of her but never got around to reading anything by her (going back to my whole slow getting around to notable Canadian authors *foreheadsmack*). I was finally prompted to pick up her books (this and her Selected Stories) sooner when I learned that she won the 2013 Nobel Prize in Literature, which is a pretty big deal and a pretty proud moment for the country. And here we are.
Dear Life is an interesting collection of short stories and nonfiction pieces. They’re pretty quiet stories on the whole about those little happenings in life; the characters that populate these stories lead ordinary, quiet lives, just trying to get by. The setting for a lot of the stories are in small towns outside of major Canadian cities. It was interesting to read these stories because they’re quite different from my experience–I grew up in a metropolitan city, and moving to a smaller city for a short while was quite a change of pace for me, so I can’t even begin to imagine living in a small, rural town. A lot of the stories are also set in the early 20th century, during the time that Alice Munro was growing up, which was also interesting and made the stories unique in their own way.
Like perhaps all short story compilations I’ve read to date, some stories caught my attention and my imagination more than others, but nonetheless I was very thrilled to finally be reading something by her. My favourite story from this collection I think has to be “Amundsen”; it’s an awkwardly strange love story that’s ultimately pretty haunting. You have to be in a particular mood to read these stories, as many of them are really slow-paced. They’re also not stories to be read lightly too; there’s a lot happening in one or two sentences, hence the conciseness and straightforwardness of her writing. Her writing style does evoke a certain atmosphere to the stories, which was interesting and adds to the reading experience.
The final four pieces were especially interesting as they are more autobiographical, snapshots of particular moments from Alice Munro’s life. Sometimes the story seems a little random, piecing various memories during that period of her life, but ultimately there’s a lot of wisdom from her experience. One of “stories” sort of hit close to home in terms of the conclusion that she came to. Like the rest of the book, it feels fleeting sometimes, the thoughts, ideas, and memories.
Overall, Dear Life was an interesting collection of stories. I’m not sure if this is really the best place to start if you’re new to Alice Munro’s works, but it was an great collection nonetheless that reflected a lot of the author’s upbringing and another aspect of Canadian life.