Dear Life by Alice Munro
I was introduced to the wonder of the short story by my college creative writing professor. Until that time, I thought the full-length novel was the only true sign of a gifted writer. Once I opened that door, though, I realized the beauty of crafting something as powerful as a novel in a much smaller time frame. Alice Munro is one of the contemporary masters at this form of writing, and her newest collection of short stories, Dear Life, is a testament to that fact.
This collection of stories all center on life, and all its ups and downs; heartbreaks and pleasures; and beginnings and endings. While each story is different, being connected only by the collection’s overarching theme, each is set in the towns around Lake Huron, Ontario, which Munro fans will be quite familiar with.
My favorite story out of the entire group was “Gravel.” Told through the eyes of a preschool-aged child, the story follows a pregnant mother who leaves her suburban husband for her new theater boyfriend, taking along the child, her older sister, Caro, and the family dog. While the unnamed narrator is happy to be in their new home, a trailer located near a gravel pit, Caro has adjustment issues, and it’s how the narrator responds to Caro’s outbursts that shape the tale. There wasn’t necessarily anything completely revolutionary in the story, but it was so heartbreakingly beautiful that I really connected with each character.
Every other story is as beautifully written as “Gravel,” and I would bet many people will name either “To Reach Japan” or “Train” as their favorite of the bunch, and they wouldn’t be wrong. There isn’t a story in the bunch that could be left out because it doesn’t measure up. That being said, I struggled with “Pride,” mainly because I’m a nosey reader who wants to know everything about the characters, and I never got the answers I wanted about the narrator. If you’ve read that story and have some ideas, I would love to hear them in the comments!
Of the final four stories, Munro says “I believe they are the first and last–and the closest–things I have to say about my own life,” and you can definitely see the shift in tone and character as they begin. I enjoyed each one, though “Night” did give me pause as it showed a new and unexpected side of the author.
Hopefully you’ve already planned on adding this collection to your shelves. Not only will existing fans of Munro want to read this, but it’s a great option for anyone looking to enjoy the short story as its best. Munro is a master.
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