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.
In the years our club has been meeting we have not been big ‘short story’ readers, but the suggestion of reading Alice Munro gave us the perfect opportunity to experience one of the best in the business!
Dear Life proved to be very popular with our group. Although a collection of what you would not consider ‘uplifting’ stories, Munro nevertheless impressed us all with her sense of place, realistic characters and human frailties.
Everyone agreed that the writing was exceptional as we conceded that telling a short story is a particular skill and Munro has a way of popping you into the story mid-way and giving enough information to first get you interested, and keeping you that way. Then, delivering the punch that makes the whole story become clear. Not every writer can do this … and Munro not only does it, she does it well!
What we were all able to glean from this collection is quite exhaustive, so will only list a few here. Common themes we found were infidelity, disabilities, rural communities, teachers, doctors, dominating males … and strangely, trains. In every story there seemed to be someone leaving, arriving or waiting for a train? Make of that what you will.
There were a few negative comments. Mostly about the depressive nature of the tales. The down-side of life was a little too focused, with scant joy, although some found small snippets of humour scattered here and there. But in general, Dear Life may be a little too realistic for those looking for some escapism.
Our discussion eventually focused on Munro herself and the biographical nature of her writing. Some felt she vented much of her life through her stories … well, they say writing is good therapy. Thankfully, good writing can also hold much positive feedback for the reader!