Alice Munro has been heralded as a fabulous writer by many other authors. Margaret Atwood says that she ‘is among the major writers of English fiction of our time’, and Jonathan Franzen believes that she ‘has a strong claim to being the best fiction writer now working in North America’. This high praise is incredibly well deserved. Munro has been awarded many literary prizes during her writing career, and was given the Man Booker International Prize in 2009 for her contribution to world fiction. Thus far, her collections have been translated into thirteen languages.
In this, her new collection, Munro has chosen, as in many of her collections, to focus her attention upon individuals living in Canada – in this case, in the countryside and towns around Lake Huron. From the very first page, the tales draw you in. They are filled with very shrewd perceptions on characters and how the situations they have experienced have made them who they are, or have altered them in some way.
Munro presents emotions, particularly sadness, so well. In the first story in Dear Life, ‘To Reach Japan’, the protagonist Peter’s mother made the journey from Europe to British Columbia with him when he was tiny: ‘When Peter was a baby, his mother had carried him across some mountains whose name Greta kept forgetting, in order to get out of Soviet Czechoslovakia into Western Europe. There were other people of course. Peter’s father had intended to be with them but he had been sent to a sanatorium just before the date for the secret departure. He was to follow them when he could, but he died instead.’
Munro weaves many themes into her work. These comments and musings contemplate such topics as politics, feminism, loneliness, relationships, social hierarchy, separation, friendship, religion, adultery, the consequences of certain actions, morality, age, illness and loss. She builds her characters so deftly, and makes them incredibly believable as a result. One gets the impression that she understands them so well. A young child, for example, insists upon her mother reading her the same Christopher Robin story over and over again: ‘Children Katy’s age had no problem with monotony. In fact they embraced it, diving into it and wrapping the familiar words round their tongues as if they were a candy that could last forever.’
Each of the stories here has been perfectly crafted. Never does it feel as though Munro is leaving out any details due to the constraint which the short story as a form can so easily bring with it. She is certainly a master of her craft, and this is another wonderful collection to add to her oeuvre. The writing throughout is beautiful and so polished, and not a word has been wasted. In Dear Life, Munro presents many slices of imagined lives which could so easily be real.