Monday, November 30, 2009

On Alice Munro

Alice Munro is much revered in MFA programs, including my own at Emerson College. I think it may be law that every MFA graduate read and analyze at least one of her short stories, if not several of her collections.

This annoys many. She's not edgy. Her language isn't flashy or fun. She's not experimental. She's often melodramatic and her plot lines can feel heavily constructed. Plus, her stories mainly take place in her native rural Canada---how unsexy is that? (Sorry Canadians. But really.)

I fell in love with the stories in Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage even before I began studying writing at Emerson. "The Bear Came Over the Mountain" (which was made into the film Away From Her ) is the best love story I've ever read. It gave me a new appreciation for what it means to grow old, and what it means to be devoted to another person. I think of it often. Stories that stick with you are great stories.

I like Munro. She chose the short story form because she wrote while she raised children, and it was what she could fit into her life, around nap times and later, the school day. She writes about women, families, and aging. Again, not always sexy material, but material with depth. And she mines it for all its worth.

Her new book, Too Much Happiness, was reviewed in the NYTimes yesterday. I suspect it's worth a read, even if its not her "best work" as the reviewer suggests. Were my best writing Munro's worst, I'd be a happy writer.

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