Alice Munro is easily one of my favourite authors and I think it’s safe to say that she’s a legend in her own time. I’ve had the pleasure of writing a few essays on her work, as well as being able to take an actual course dedicated solely to deconstructing the themes within her short stories at U of T. I’m glad that she’s finally received the recognition she deserves because her work is important for women writers on the come-up.
Image courtesy of Irene Ogrizek
I think one of my favourite novels by her was The Lives of Girls and Women, which detailed a young girl’s struggles with identity growing up in a small southern Ontario town: Munro detailed the psychological depths of adolescent confusion and what it means to deal with newfound feminine sexuality. Her main character Del has boyfriends that fail to understand her and try to change aspects of who she is, and she is almost an outcast in her interests. She is fascinated with gruesome things and enjoys writing, and we later find out near the end of the book that she is going to pursue a career in journalism. Maybe this is why I relate to the book so much…
In many of Munro’s short stories she explores themes of omniscience and the darker side of humanity and it is always these kinds of stories that intrigue me. The relationships she explores between her characters typically tend to reveal inherently hidden social truths, especially considering the time frames she was writing in (think feminism in the 1970s and 80s).
Too often there were stories containing an uneasiness within a male-female romantic relationship which detailed a woman’s anxiety about her partner and why they were not a proper fit, which to me contextualized and illuminated sentiments that went unheard at the times she was writing. Munro seemed obsessed with characters that were out of place and social misfits, which further illustrates the disconnect many of her female protagonists felt within their romantic lives.
I think Munro’s portrayals of disturbing behavior and settings also get us as readers thinking and re-evaluating our own worlds outside the book. She gives us an inside perspective into realities that we often overlook or want to forget. Her latest–and from what I’ve heard, her last–short story collection “Dear Life” contains stories of older/elderly adults and their experiences. One such story, In Sight of the Lake, the main character Nancy is an older woman who initially goes to see a “mind specialist” but arrives on the wrong day. She gets lost in the town and the story details her thought process as she navigates her way around. At the end of the story we find out that this was a dream and she is in a nursing home, so we are left to question whether or not older people’s mental capacities are as slow and delusional as society makes them out to be.
Image courtesy of Time Out Chicago
At the end of the day I love Alice Munro because she teaches us things about ourselves. She forces us to reflexively look inwards and re-evaluate our own prejudices and biases, and overall just question reality. Things aren’t always as they seem.