Bits and Pieces
Book: Dear Life
Author: Alice Munro
Publisher: Chatto & Windus, London
Alice Munro, a Canadian writer, is not as well known (specially in India) as her compatriot, Margaret Atwood. Is this because Munro is a short story writer and Atwood a novelist? Short story writers themselves are only too aware that novelists have a greater cachet in the literary world. Alice Munro, in an interview, spoke of Katherine Mansfield calling her stories "bits and pieces". Munro herself earlier regarded stories as "just practice, till I got to write a novel". That never happened; in fact, Lives of Girls and Women, was intended to be a novel, but, Munro says, it didn't work. "I had to pull it apart and put it in the story form." Today, Munro's body of work consists entirely of stories, and her reputation, as well as all the numerous honours, prizes and awards she has received, including the Man Booker International Prize, 2009 — a lifetime achievement award — have been for her stories. Cynthia Ozick, an American writer, has called her "our own Chekov".
Dear Life is her 13th collection and once again, most of the stories are located in rural and small-town southwestern Ontario, the region where Munro grew up and went back to later. In this rootedness of her work, as in her mastery over the short story form, Munro is like Eudora Welty, an American writer Munro much admires. Welty speaks of being able to work more by suggestion in a short story than in a novel. "Less is resolved, more is suggested," she says. Munro's stories are a great example of suggestion rather than resolution. There is also an elliptical quality to her stories, which leave it to readers to traverse the ellipses on their own. In 'Amundsen', for example, one of the best stories in this collection, a young girl, teaching children in a TB sanatorium, is seduced by the doctor. The story then abruptly moves from the excitement of the girl preparing for her wedding to the doctor to the knowledge that he is not going to marry her. ("Just leaving," says Alister, the man sitting beside me, who was going to marry me but now is not going to marry me.)