Alice Munro – One of My Favorite Fiction Writers of the 20th Century (and 21st)

 

Alice Munro

Born:  July 10, 1931

A Young Alice Munro

Alice Munro is the virtuoso of the long short story.  I read my first Alice Munro back in the late 1970s, ‘The Beggar Maid – The Stories of Rose and Flo’, and I was hooked.  I then went back and read her two earlier books and have read every one of her story collections since.   Cynthia Ozick has called Munro “our Chekhov” which is high praise indeed.  Munro is the 2013 Nobel Prize winner in Literature.  She is by no means a surprise choice for me.

Munro was born in rural Ontario, Canada, and her father was a mink and fox farmer who later turned to turkey farming.  That seems to me like a pretty good background for a fiction writer to have. Many of her stories are located in that childhood Huron County area. After she was married she moved to West Vancouver, British Columbia which provided her take on urban life but later moved back to Ontario.  Munro was already 37 when she published her first story collection, ‘The Dance of the Happy Shades’ in 1968.

Even though Munro’s main protagonists are more often women, I as a male am moved by their stories and thoroughly empathize with their eloquent points of view.  She continuously explores the mysteries of humans getting together and falling apart through time.  Her technique can be looked upon as fictional reporting on people’s fortunes from the front lines.

Unusual Fact about Alice Munro

.  She and her first husband opened a bookstore called Munro’s Books in Victoria, British Columbia which is still in business.

Fiction by Alice Munro that I strongly recommend:  I would recommend any one of her many story collections.  I would recommend juxtaposing one of her later collections with one of her earlier collections, because her stories have changed over the years.  A few titles to look for; ‘The Lives of Girls and Women’, ‘The Moons of Jupiter’, ‘Open Secrets’, ‘Runaway’.

Quotes about Alice Munro

“Given a choice between being a person who does good works but has inauthentic feelings and is numb at heart and being one who behaves badly but is true to what she really feels and is thus alive to herself, a Munro woman is likely to choose the latter; or, if she chooses the former, she will then comment on her own slipperiness, guile, wiliness, slyness and perversity. Honesty, in Munro’s work, is not the best policy: it is not a policy at all, but an essential element, like air. The characters must get hold of at least some of it, by fair means or foul, or – they feel – they will go under. “– Margaret Atwood

“in 2009, she withdrew her new book from the Giller prize competition, on the grounds that she had won the prize twice already, so she wanted to step aside to make room for a younger writer. This selfless decision—which, in the role of selfish, greedy publisher, I fought against for weeks, until I saw that Alice’s mind was made up—meant that the book lost not only potential prize money, but potential sales and publicity worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.” – Her Publisher, Douglas Gibson

“The recurrent and very personal themes of Munro’s fiction – the stirring of the creative impulse, the bohemian rejection of provincial anonymity and conservatism, the refusal to be bound by narrow definitions of womanhood, and the complexity of female sexuality – are not what make her work so remarkable. For that we need to look to her style. Munro’s way with form, the scattered chronology of her stories, captures the drift of our thoughts, the endless movement in and out of moments. A Munro sentence, beguiling in its lucidity, compelling in its precision, seductive in its simplicity, offers constant enchantment. Munro’s prose, without sentiment, yet suffused with a hard melancholy, has a composed, wry, crystalline grace.” – Garan Holcombe

“The point is that girls and women, even those who lead narrow and constricted lives, those who wield no influence, who have a limited experience in the world, are just as significant and important as boys and men.” – Roxana Robinson

Quotes by Alice Munro

“Why is it a surprise to find that people other than ourselves are able to tell lies?”  – Alice Munro

“People’s lives … were dull, simple, amazing and unfathomable – deep caves paved with kitchen linoleum.”  – Alice Munro, ‘The Lives of Girls and Women’

“You cannot let your parents anywhere near your real humiliations.” – Alice Munro, ‘Open Secrets’

“Never underestimate the meanness in people’s souls… Even when they’re being kind… especially when they’re being kind.” ― Alice Munro

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8 responses to this post.

  1. I’ve never read her! I know, I know…
    But I have so many collections of short stories that I’ve never got round to reading, and you know, another one about ‘women’, I haven’t been tempted, so far…

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

    • Hi Lisa,
      Wow, You must be the only one in the world who hasn’t read Alice Munro. I hadn’t read much of Charles Dickens, until I came to the realization that I loved watching ‘The Christmas Carol’, then I read ‘Oliver Twist’ and a ‘A Tale of Two Cities’. Even quite recently he wasn’t considered ‘real’ literature.

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply

      • What? Dickens not real literature? *gasp* I must spring to his defence!
        He certainly was when I studied English Lit at university: I read everything he wrote that year, presented a seminar about him, and got an HD for it. And he gets a whole column and a half in the Oxford Companion to EngLit, my edition first published in 1967, not to mention a whole chapter in The New English Guide to English Lit, Vol 6, not coincidentally titled ‘From Dickens to Hardy. E.M. Forster, in Aspects of the Novel, calls him a genius. And that’s just from three books I can ransack from my own shelves!

        Liked by 2 people

        Reply

        • Yes, some of us accustomed to reading Russian authors like Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, and Chekhov considered Dickens novels about London orphans kind of hokey. I avoided Dickens for years. I think Dickens’ stock has risen since then. I have always been moved by ‘A Christmas Carol’, so I guess there is hope for me yet.
          You seem to have a much stronger literature background than I do as I never formally studied it but it became an obsession for me about 1977 and has been ever since..

          Liked by 1 person

          Reply

  2. I have three of her books unread on my shelves. This post is a good reminder why I need to continue to stick to my TBR challenge this year. So many good authors sitting around the room I need to interact with. Great post. Wonderful lady.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

    • Hi TravellinPenguin,
      Alice Munro is one of those writers it is easy to overlook, because she has been so steady and reliable throughout her career with another collection of stories about every four years. It was New Yorker magazine that really first gave her a big break by publishing her early stories.

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply

  3. We all love Munro, and it is great she won the Nobel. My husband gave me The Moons of Jupiter and I was hooked. She made me appreciate short stories, a form I had never cared for before.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

    • Hi Kat,
      I’ve never stayed away from short stories. I don’t read the individual short stories in the New Yorker which I subscribe to, but I do read a lot of the collections. I guess I need to read a full book to get a sense of completion.

      Like

      Reply

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