In Dear Life, her 14th book of short stories, Alice Munro revisits the territory and topics that have endeared her to readers for years. Set mostly in the rural Canadian countryside she calls home, Munro weaves tales of regret, of unfulfilled lives, of children trying to make sense of the confounding things the adults around them do, of people resisting and resenting society’s changes. At their heart, her stories explore what it means to be human, and she writes of everyday struggles and desires in such a way that reading her work leaves you with a sense that she, somehow, knows you.
It’s this intimate quality, combined with her ingenuity in the short story format, that assures her place in literary history. And, well, a little thing called the Nobel Prize can’t hurt either. Munro won hers in October of this year, at age 82. She is just the 13th woman in the prize’s 112 years of existence to win. The fact that as a writer she is known primarily for her short stories (she did publish one novel early in her career) also makes her win unique. Further, she’s considered the first Canadian to win a Nobel Prize (Saul Bellow was born in Canada but lived most of his life in the U.S.).
Munro shares an interesting connection to Mississippi, if only through our state’s literary heritage. She’s spoken of her adoration of Eudora Welty, another master of the art of the short story. Munro has also said that she loved reading other writers from the South, like Flannery O’Connor, because they showed her that it was possible to write compellingly about small towns and rural areas.
William Faulkner said that his “… little postage stamp of native soil was worth writing about,” and Munro seems to have taken this idea to heart. She lives near where she grew up, in rural Ontario, Canada, in a town of just 3,000 people. Much of her work is set in these out-of-the-way places. Her rural sensibility made the stories in Dear Life even more relatable for me, having grown up in a small town (Monticello, Mississippi) myself.
If you’re new to Munro’s work, Dear Life would be a fine starting point. Each story is filled with quiet power, dignity, and humanity. After the book was published last year, she said it would be her final one and she was retiring from writing. Then she won the Nobel Prize. Will that inspire her to keep going? We’ll see, but I, for one, certainly hope so.
— LouAnn Lofton, email@example.com