Monday, Apr. 18, 2005

Alice Munro

Alice Munro's work is wise and deep. She understands reality in a complex, capacious way, leaving intact its dimensions of dream and wonder, its shadings of the fantastic. She creates characters of mythic resonance, big people with radical trajectories who speak a language rooted in the vernacular of rural mid-century Canada. Perennial archetypes emerge, women we would recognize anywhere as Munro's — the educated, wry nurse or the classics scholar, an intelligent spinster who will nonetheless overturn her life for the spell of love. The strong, plain woman of almost unfathomable capacity who can build a workable world with her own hands from scratch.

Especially in Munro's past three books, the drama has become daring. A woman realizes the man she is falling in love with is a murderer; a doctor takes his brother's fiancé along on a suicide binge; a young violinist contemplates killing her baby. These stories, told with a lucidity equal to Chekhov's, are about the nature of storytelling and the moral cost of art.

Munro is never show-offy. I have probably looked up only a handful of words during years of reading her. Yet there are dozens of indelible human positions, notes and tones I use in my daily imagination.

In the past 1½ decades, Munro's stories have broken out of their forms, expanding the genre. She takes on huge swaths of time, with breathtaking skips and breaks and vision, while still writing about women, about Canadians, about the extraordinary nature of ordinary love. Alice Munro is 73 now, and she deserves the Nobel Prize. Her fiction admits readers to a more intimate knowledge and respect for what they already possess.

From the Archive
Small is Beautiful: Two new short-story collections are more full of literary pleasures than a shelf full of blockbusters