Dear Life

Alice Munro, Author
Alice Munro. Knopf, $26.99 (336p) ISBN 978-0-307-59688-8
Reviewed on: 09/24/2012
Release date: 11/13/2012
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Joan Didion once said “I didn’t want to see life reduced to a short story... I wanted to see life expanded to a novel.” Didion had her own purposes, but Munro readers know that the dichotomy between expansive novel and compressed short story doesn’t hold in her work. Munro (Too Much Happiness) can depict key moments without obscuring the reality of a life filled with countless other moments—told or untold. In her 13th collection, she continues charting the shifts in norms that occur as WWII ends, the horses kept for emergencies go out of use, small towns are less isolated, and then gradually or suddenly, nothing is quite the same. There are no clunkers here, and especially strong stories include “Train,” “To Reach Japan,” “Haven,” and “Corrie.” And for the first time, Munro writes about her childhood, in the collection’s final four pieces, which she describes as “not quite stories.... I believe they are the first and last—and the closest—things I have to say about my own life.” These feature the precision of her fiction with the added interest of revealing the development of Munro’s eye and her distance from her surroundings, both key, one suspects, in making her the writer she is. While many of these pieces appeared in the New Yorker, they read differently here; not only has Munro made changes, but more importantly, read together, the stories accrete, deepen, and speak to each other. (Nov.)