Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Alice Munro: Nobel Laureate in Literature

When I open a new New Yorker, there are three women writers whose names I'm always thrilled to see on a short story: Lorrie Moore, Louise Erdrich, and Alice Munro. As regards the latter, bravo Nobel Prize committee for honoring the power and scope of her fiction! Who needs the novel when you can get the job done in a story? I personally own six collections of Munro's stories. In them, the vast landscapes of her native Canada combine with the often lengthy time periods covered in her narratives to create an almost mythical literary realm grounded, paradoxically, in ordinary life and non-showy prose.
Not that her stories are a one-note samba. As Charles McGrath wrote in a 2012 New York Times review of the collection Dear Life, "Unlike William Trevor, say, her only living rival ... Munro did not hit a characteristic note early on and then stick with it. Over the years her work has deepened and enlarged."
Daedalus Books has chosen selected works by the Nobel Laureate to inaugurate a new feature on our website called "Spotlight." You can choose from an array of Munro's most renowned titles, all at a discount. They include Lives of Girls and Women, The Moons of Jupiter, Something I've Been Meaning to Tell You, and Too Much Happiness.
After the Nobel Prizes were announced, The New Yorker reprinted Munro's sad and rueful yet sly story “The Bear Came Over the Mountain” (later made into a super film called Away From Her with Julie Christie, directed by Sarah Polley. We have the DVD.) In this New Yorker podcast, Lauren Groff reads Munro’s story “Axis,” and discusses it with the magazine's fiction editor, Deborah Treisman. And in this blog entry, Triesman writes about editing Munro's stories.

“What should we call the combination of obsessive scrutiny, archaeological unearthing, precise and detailed recollection, the wallowing in the seamier and meaner and more vengeful undersides of human nature, the telling of erotic secrets, the nostalgia for vanished miseries, and rejoicing in the fullness and variety of life, stirred all together?”—Margaret Atwood (Introduction to Munro's Collected Stories)

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“If short stories are about life and novels are about the world, one can see Munro’s capacious stories as being a little about both: fate and time and love are the things she is most interested in, as well as their unexpected outcomes…. She does not overtly judge—especially human cruelty—but allows human encounters to speak for themselves. She honors mysteriousness and is a neutral beholder before the unpredictable. Her genius is in the strange detail that resurfaces, but it is also in the largeness of vision being brought to bear (and press on) a smaller genre or form that has few such wide-seeing practitioners.”—Lorrie Moore

10.30 Update:  This article about newly discovered letters in the Knopf publishing house archive at the Harry Ransom Center talks about Munro's fiction being rejected because of prejudice against short story collections, her nationality, and their perceived blandness.
One letter written in 1968 by Knopf’s editor Judith Jones after reading Munro’s first book of short stories, “Dance of the Happy Shades,” said her book had nothing particularly new or exciting, and it could be easily overlooked. In another letter from Jones to Munro on her first novel, “Lives of Girls and Women,” in 1971, she credited Munro’s style but still rejected the novel for publication. “There’s no question that the lady can write but it’s also clear she is primarily a short story writer,” Jones wrote.
I also forgot to include this link to a large group of short stories you can sample for free. Enjoy!

1 comment:

  1. I am sadly deprived of Munro's stories, and will have to use the new "Spotlight" feature to fix this. I am excited for this, as I always enjoy a good novel, but truly appreciate the art that goes into writing short fiction. I'm also thinking Munro's stories will make for good Christmas presents this year.

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