Friday, 16 March 2012

Alice Munro

I've been reading a lot about Alice Munro recently. I haven't read much of her output, which may explain why I haven't noticed all of the trends that others have identified. It's not easy to find adverse criticism about her, or even much in the way of comparisons. The stories of William Trevor, for example, have many of the features lauded in Munro's. Reading the theory about Munro has help me with her stories -

  • Perhaps I've underestimated the fantasy element in her work. After all, "My mother's dream" is in the 1st person where the narrator's initially unborn.
  • Perhaps I've too much of a New Crit attitude to writers' biographies. Perhaps "My mother's dream" should be read in a wider context. Munro had a child who lived for 14 hours. According to her daughter "[y]ears later she had a tombstone erected for Catherine in a cemetery in North Vancouver's Lynn Valley; she could no longer bear the thought of the baby being buried in an unmarked grave"
  • I've underestimated her artifice. I had trouble following "Something I've Been Meaning To Tell You". Apparently, Terms such as "modernism," "postmodernism" and "late-modernist" have proliferated within critics' writings in the attempt to capture and crystallise Munro's art. How "modern" is she? It's hard to tell
    • "She has a uniquely nonlinear method of reading other writers' stories: 'I can start reading them anywhere; from beginning to end, from end to beginning, from any point in between in either direction'"
    • "I didn’t last at [my first creative writing] job at all. I hated it, and even though I had no money, I quit. ... It was terrible. This was 1973. York was one of the more radical Canadian universities, yet my class was all male except for one girl who hardly got to speak. They were doing what was fashionable at the time, which had to do with being both incomprehensible and trite; they seemed intolerant of anything else." - I suspect I sometimes like supposedly "incomprehensible and trite" pieces.

Her work has inspired me to write more. I've often used detail as a substrate, providing the space that theme/character can inhabit. I try too hard to do extra things with the details - they can be (merely) absorbent.

Here's a summary of my reading. Follow the links to learn more

  • Alice Munro by Coral Ann Howells. I don't believe all that's in this book, but it's early days.
    • "Munro's stories encode a postmodern awareness of the strategies of fiction while at the same time deflecting the reader's attention away from such artifice through the domesticity of her language"
    • "If Munro takes risks to unsettle readers' expectations by showing us the limits of conventional plots of mystery and romance, she also takes the risk of showing unaccommodated moments of grace and insight which far exceed anything her characters or her readers might anticipate"
  • Reading Alice Munro in Italy edited by Gianfranca Balestra et al
  • Controlling the Uncontrollable by Ildiko de Papp Carrington. In this book some quotes by Munro about life are used to explain her style
    • "I want to write the story that will zero in and give you intense, but not connected, moments of experience. I guess that's the way I see life"
    • "I always realized that I had a different view of the world, ... one that would bring me into great trouble and ridicule if it were exposed. I learned very early to disguise everything, and perhaps the escape into making stories was necessary"
    • "We always spoke grammatically at home because my father and mother knew how to. But we knew we should speak ungrammatically outside so that people wouldn't be offended, or make fun of us"
    • "I feel that I am two rather different people, two very different women and so, perhaps, that's where I'm working from. That I would like to get them separate"
    I was interested to read that "Munro often revises her stories between their original publication in a periodical and the republication in a collection. For example, she frequently writes a story from both the third-person and first-person point of view before deciding which to use in the final version"
  • Selected Stories
  • Hateship, friendship, courtship, loveship, marriage
  • The love of a good woman
  • The Moons of Jupiter

Charles E. May's blog has extensive material on Alice Munro.

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