Book Review: DEAR LIFE by Alice Munro
Review from Alison Doherty
Published by Alfred A. Knopf, 2012
There’s not much I can say about Dear Life, by Alice Munro. Fans of Munro will not be disappointed and readers new to her writing will be equally delighted. Alice Munro is frequently referred to as “the best writer no one knows about,” “the premier short story writer of our time,” and “a writer’s writer.” I agree with all those statements, and I think if you read Dear Life you will too.
I began reading Munro because I saw her listed as the favorite writer of two of my favorite authors: Amy Bloom and Curtis Sittenfeld. Later in college, my Milton professor said that in a thousand years students would be reading Homer, Shakespeare, and Alice Munro. That might be a bit of a strong statement, but Munro soon became a favorite of mine as well.
Dear Life stands out as Munro’s fourteenth and last short story collection. She recently announced her retirement from writing (or at least from publishing). The short stories contain many similar themes from her past work-–sex and romantic longing, the role of women, small towns – but she doesn’t repeat herself. While the stories include the layers upon layers of the significant details she is known for, they are peppered with overarching statements about life. Most poignantly for me, late in the book Munro writes, “We say of some things that they can’t be forgiven, or that we will never forgive ourselves. But we do – we do it all the time.”
These statements helped make the book seem like a summation of her impressive writing career. The stories all seem to be centered around a common exploration of motion. Whether the story of a young mother on a train, running away, or a relationship running its course, all the stories play with the idea that the lifespan seems both quick and never ending.
The final four stories, entitled “Finale,” stand out as particularly meaningful. They return to common settings and characters from Munro’s early work: the rural Canadian town where she grew up, and her invalid mother. Munro herself describes the stories as, “autobiographical in feeling, though not, sometimes, entirely so in fact,” adding, “I believe they are the first and last – and the closest – things I have to say about my own life.” And what a life she must have lead to continually be mining her own experiences for brilliant short stories, which have certainly earned her a place in the cannon as well as many readers’ hearts.
As it turns out, I did have a few things to say about the book, which if you haven’t noticed I highly recommend. It has been named A New York Times Notable Book, A Washington Post Notable Work of Fiction, and the best book of the year by The Atlantic, NPR, and Vogue. The paperback version was released in the U.S. on July 30, 2013.