First published in May 2014.
As far as short stories go, Canadian Alice Munro is one of the most revered authors in the field, winning the Nobel Prize for Literature last year in recognition of her craft. Lying Under the Apple Tree is made up of selected stories, all of them previously published in some of the author’s other collections. The tales here come from the following books respectively, demonstrating how Munro’s work has progressed over the course of just over a decade: The Love of a Good Woman (1998), Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage (2001), Runaway (2004), The View from Castle Rock (2006) and Too Much Happiness (2009). Many of them can also be found within the pages of the wonderful and far-reaching Selected Stories, which showcases three decades of Munro’s work.
As one might expect, almost all of Munro’s tales are set in and around Lake Huron, where the author herself lives. Some of the stories take small towns and rural homes as their backdrops, and others are set within large and crowded cities. The wealth of inspiration within Lying Under the Apple Tree is vast, and each story presents a clear and thoughtful slice of life. None of the tales are similar, despite the settings which are occasionally used more than once, and the use of a couple of protagonists who carry themselves through a series of stories, rather than just one.
There are tales which include such plot details as holidays spent with families, and how such sojourns impact upon them, both as individuals and a complete unit; motherhood; grief; dementia; and those which touch upon such things as museums ‘dedicated to preserving photos and butter churns and horse harnesses and an old dentist’s chair and a cumbersome apple peeler and such curiosities as the pretty little porcelain-and-glass insulators that were used on telegraph poles’.
One noticeable element within Lying Under the Apple Tree is that the prose which Munro crafts is utterly sublime, even when she is turning her hand to describing the most mundane and everyday things. She has the most stunning way of making both objects and events, which are so usual and are taken for granted by the majority of us in the modern world, appear afresh. It is clear throughout her writing that she never fails to notice the magic in everything, and one gets the impression after reading just one of her many tales that she adores her craft.
Her characters throughout are so very realistic, and her turns of phrase are stunning. Each story is marvellously built, and not a single word has been wasted throughout. Munro manages to weave the unexpected – be it a small detail, or something rather more pivotal – into each tale. She deftly captures emotions, and shows how they can alter over time. Indeed, Munro’s stories are so well written and crafted that even re-reading them is a real treat. Lying Under the Apple Tree is a stunning collection, which really does showcase Munro’s talent as an author, and one which deserves to be widely read.