Alice Munro (Critical Insights)
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Over more than forty years, Alice Munro’s reputation has slowly grown to a point where she is today recognized as one of the finest living short story writers. Often compared to Chekhov for her fastidiously structured plots and psychological complexity, she has won the admiration of writers and readers around the world. From her early success with Dance of the Happy Shades to her most recent collections, Munro has steadily proven that short stories can be just as intricate, moving, and formidable as the best novels.
Edited by Charles May, Emeritus Professor of English at California State University, Long Beach, this volume in the Critical Insights series presents a variety of new essays on the Canadian writer. For readers who are studying Munro for the first time, a biographical sketch relates the details of her life and four essays survey the critical reception of Munro’s work, explore its cultural and historical contexts, situate Munro among her contemporaries, and review key themes in her work. Readers seeking a deeper understanding of the writer can then move on to other essays that explore topics like Munro’s Canadian identity; her aesthetics and narrative devices; the psychology of her characters; and recurrent themes in her work, like secrets, acting, and memory. Works discussed include The Beggar Maid, Friend of My Youth, Runaway, Too Much Happiness, Lives of Girls and Women, The Progress of Love, and The Love of a Good Woman. Among the contributors are Philip Coleman, David Crouse, Robert Thacker, and Alisa Cox.
Rounding out the volume are a chronology of Munro’s life and a list of her principle publications as well as a bibliography for readers seeking to study this iconic author in greater depth.
K. MacKendrick’s Some Other Reality: Alice Munro’s Something I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You (1993), demonstrate abundantly that Munro’s art, one of always pushing the limitations of the short story, is not well served by the critical form of the single-author extended critical overview. On the contrary, in short critical volumes of about one hundred pages each, both sharply focused on the aesthetic and biographical contexts defined by a single Munro collection, Besner and MacKendrick demonstrate
not melted underneath them or on the rocks that jutted out beside the road. . . . There was a slight crackle to the snow, though the ground underneath was soft and mucky. Lauren was still wearing her pajamas under her coat, but Eileen had made her put on her boots. (Munro, Runaway 197) Psychoanalysis and the Fiction of Alice Munro Alice_Munro.indd 71 71 9/17/2012 9:01:54 AM It is, of course, significant that we do not know who these people are and how they are related to one another. Munro
Portia acknowledges her victimization by using imagery of the Titanic sinking and a woman like the Greek prophetess Cassandra calling out danger but not being believed. This imagery suggests Atwood’s victim position two, in which a person is aware of being victimized but sees her plight as inescapably fated (Survival 37). Portia’s response is to sleep on the beach and then swim, perhaps drowning herself, perhaps accepting yet one more infidelity: “And nothing has happened, really, that hasn’t
reading, naked, to an older man who, referring to the bosom-baring attire of women in the Minoan civilization of ancient Crete, says resonantly, “It’s odd the different things that are hidden in different eras. And the things that are displayed” (79). For Munro, the cultural values of the ancient world reveal our own, and a character’s growth and change can be underlined by metaphorical changes of era, as in her 1971 novel,2 Lives of Girls and Women. A coming-of-age story set in the years
Prayer.” All these instances of Munro’s freedom are her “lovely tricks, honest tricks,” shapes within “the marvelous clear jelly” of her unsparing yet generous creativity (Munro, Something 43). With the right temperament and analytical gear, one can go pretty well anywhere in exploring Munro’s fiction and come out ahead, which reflects her startling comment about writing and reading in her ironically very brief essay “What Is Real?”: “I don’t take up a story and follow it as if it were a road,