BOOKS OCTOBER 10, 2013
Alice Munro is the winner of this year's Nobel Prize for literature.
Here are a couple of excerpts from The New Republic's writings about Munro:
Despite her periodic fatigue, Munro’s well runs prolifically. Since the book that was “supposed” to be her last, The View From Castle Rock (2006), Munro has produced two more collections, Too Much Happiness (2009) and now, Dear Life; in total, she has published 14 sizeable books. But if reports of her retirement have been greatly exaggerated, the fact of her age remains. Munro is 81, and her health is fragile. Recently, she cancelled a rare public appearance; her editor stated that she was too frail for the event. Critical assessment can become adjective-laden hyperventilation when reviewers approach Alice Munro. At the prospect of her ill health, I will just say: I hope she lives and writes for many more years. In Dear Life, she shows no sign of running out of material nor any sloppiness toward the form she has so gracefully deployed for almost half a century. The book is more, however, than just the latest evidence of her excellence. Munro offers something striking in Dear Life: a distinct turn to autobiography and a revealing window into the workings of her mind.
For much of her career, Munro has stubbornly established the distance between her experience and her stories. “Some of these stories are closer to my own life than others are,” she wrote in the introduction to The Moons of Jupiter (1985), “but not one of them is as close as people seem to think.” She has held back some of her most personal work from her book-length collections, including: Home (1974), which depicts her father and stepmother; Working for a Living (1981), a memoir about her father; and “What Do You Want to Know For?” (1994), another story about her father. Munro, according to her biographer, did not think that they fit “the collection then at hand.” (Much has been written about Munro’s mastery of the short story, and probably too little about her craft of the short story collection.) When she finally included these three stories in The View From Castle Rock, she acknowledged that this “special set of stories” was “closer to my own life than the other stories I had written.” But she retained an adamant assertion: “These are stories.” The emphasis is hers, the single sentence comprising its own defiant paragraph. ...
If Dear Life is part of a kind of coda on her career, what message does it dispatch? First and foremost, it must be said, there is the unquestionable evidence of her unfaded abilities. Then, in the “Finale,” there is a unique autobiography told in snatches of a mind at work: Munro is a writer who cannot tell her life story without concern for the art of the story. For a writer of her ability, this seems a fitting mode. This autobiographical impulse is echoed in the wonderful double meaning of the title. Dear Life can read as the opening of a letter—a missive from the eighty-plus-year-old Alice Munro to the experiences that have made her who she is: Dear Life, I’m writing to tell you what I have to say. But it can also read as a description of her sensibility: life is dear, live every day with a dose of awe and a sense of the story.
But the writer's fundamental paradox--possessing some ability to shape life, but only to a certain extent--has been in the background all along. The Hateship, Friendship... ritual from which the story takes its name is a child's game, a variation on the age-old "he loves me, he loves me not," and in the context of the story it can be accepted metaphorically. You write your full name on a piece of paper, and next to it the name of the boy you have a crush on. Then you cross out the letters that the two names have in common, and with the jumble that remains you count through the words "hateship, friendship, courtship, loveship, marriage." The one on which you end up is "the verdict on what could happen between you and that boy." To play the game, you must write the names down. But once they are on the piece of paper, chance takes over. Thus the game mimics the act of writing fiction: the writer presides over her created world, doling out blessings and judgments as she desires. But as soon as they leave her hand, her words--be they stories, poems, letters--take on a life of their own, which she cannot govern.