Dear Life by Alice Munro

Dear Life_Alice MunroI finally finished “Dear Life” last night. Alice Munro was a revelation for me, mostly in terms of “how to write a good story” from a technical point of view. I read that her stories are teaching material in creative writing classes, and I can see why. Munro really knows how to hook you up simply by telling the story, avoiding any unnecessary rhetoric. Reading “Dear Life” is not easy, as you cannot simply flip from one story to another. You need time to process each of them, and after I finished the book, I found myself under the impression that I had read 14 novels instead of 14 short stories.

“Dear Life” is Munro’s latest collection of short stories and she mentioned it would be her last. I suspect she really means that, given that the final four stories in the book are autobiographical and sound a bit like a literary testament. All the stories in the book are set in rural Canada or in small Canadian towns just like the one Munro herself lives in. You would suspect that nothing out of the ordinary ever happens in such a quaint setting, and indeed in doesn’t. It is Munro’s insightful writing that goes deep inside the characters’ thoughts and actions and makes the ordinary special.

While the writing was indeed faultless, I found some of the stories better than others, but I guess this is bound to happen with any book of short stories. “Amundsen” is the one I liked best. It tells the story of a young teacher who takes up a job in a remote sanitarium where solitude becomes painful. You can see the romance with the doctor of the town coming, but the ending is truly surprising. Another powerful story is “Dolly”. Here an elderly couple plans a  joint suicide, but it all falls apart when the husband’s ex-lover appears from nowhere. The wife goes from wanting to die together with the love of her life to the strong desire to pound him to pieces.

I would say that while I enjoyed the stories overall, there was a feeling of redundance at times. I think this was because Munro’s voice is the same in all the stories and this makes everything a bit repetitive. The setting feels a bit claustrophobic for the reader, but by the time I finished the book I got a good glimpse of what it’s like to live in the middle of nowhere, trapped between the vast sky and the mountains.

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