Thoughts on Short Fiction: Alice Munro
Last week, I came home to the news that one of my favorite short story writers, Alice Munro, won the 2013 Nobel Prize for Literature. I remember that day since the rain was falling heavily, my shoes were wet, and a tree was felled near where I live due to the combination of rough winds and the ground made uneven by construction. Amid all that, my smile was wide and my excitement cannot be contained. I was informed over the phone by my girlfriend and I almost shouted when she told me that Alice Munro won.
Of course, I may be engaging in hyperbole and may be remembering the events of that day with added drama and flair. However, in my defense, this is the first time in my life that an author, whose work I’ve not only read before but also some of my favorites, won. When Mo Yan won, the effect was that of curiosity over his works; when Tomas Transtromer won, I wasn’t paying attention to the Nobel then; when Mario Vargas Llosa won, I only noticed it because of the article that I read about him punching fellow laureate (and one of my favorites too) Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
This time, however, is special because I already read Munro’s works and they have already affected me as a reader. Hence, I was very happy that she won.
Munro’s stories were a pleasant surprise for me when I first read them. They were simple, really, and about small town life of women in Canada. She does not write about what can be considered grand things and her style is relatively simple but what she does is delve on the minutiae of everyday life and tell the stories of ordinary people living ordinary lives. It may seem overtly simple but Munro’s work has many layers to it that I cannot properly explain or give justice to which leads to my final point, one that mirror’s Jonathan Franzen’s introduction of Munro’s Runaway: Read Munro! Read Munro!
Of all the stories that I’ve read written by Munro, there are three stories that particularly stands out. The story that introduced me to her, the story that made me a fan, and the story that stood out. Let me introduce them one by one:
- The Story That Introduce Me To Her: “Turkey Season” from The Ecco Book of Christmas Stories edited by Alberto Manguel – In retrospect, I believe Christmas is the best way to be introduced to Munro since it is such a perfect gift. Before this story, I honestly did not know who Alice Munro is but this story, a coming-of-age story about a 14-year-old girl working on a Turkey Barn during Christmas season, fixed my ignorance. There are many things about this story that I love: the depiction of small-town life, the sexual awakening of our protagonist, the subtle portrayal of homosexuality, and the supporting cast that makes the story alive. This story, although it did not make me rave over her, placed Munro on my radar and that was when I started buying her books for future reading.
- The Story That Made Me A Fan: “Boys and Girls” from Dance of the Happy Shades – I already stated how much I like this story in my post here but let me reiterate again that this is a great story. To keep it short, this story explores the tragedy of being the eldest daughter growing up in a traditional family and community that follows pre-established gender roles. The ending of the story is one of the most heartbreaking endings that I’ve read in a short story ever.
- The Story That Stood Out: “A Bear Came From Over The Mountain” from My Mistress’s Sparrow is Dead edited by Jeffrey Eugenides – I personally consider this to be one of the best stories that I’ve read by Munro. There are layers upon layers to this story about a husband, who was a philanderer in his younger years, who has a wife with Alzheimer’s and who he needs to put in a nursing home. Of course, the wife forgets him and, in a stroke only Munro can execute, gets taken in with a fellow patient of the nursing home. Enter the other guy’s wife and things escalate to proportions rarely seen in short stories. I don’t want to give up how it ends because it’s such a marvelous ending that it would be a shame to read it in my words and not Munro’s.
I’ve only read one complete work of Alice Munro (Dance of the Happy Shades) but I’ve read some of her stories scattered all over the internet. Despite my lack of reading majority of her works, I am already a fan and I believe that my fondness of her stories will only grow as I read her works, all of which will be major parts of my To Be Read pile.
So ends my rave about Nobel-winner Alice Munro. I leave you, dear readers, with a look at the books of Alice Munro that I have in my possession. I can’t wait to dig in.