Dear Life

by rebeccaswirsky

Alice Munro

Where but in a Munro collection would a goat named Flora rest at the centre of heartbreak (Runaway)? Dear Life, Munro’s latest collection, shows her lightly-managed, killer touch finding a similarity with William Trevor. Both writers specialise in fiction clear as water, punchy as gin. Difficult to pinpoint exactly where Munro shifts us from one emotional field to the next. No voyeurism or drama, more a nudging of the reader into a character’s world-view, followed by a minute swerve revealing everything before as ultimately uncertain. Part of the trick, possibly, is although Munro’s stories are located in the towns of Southern Ontario, she moves us from place to place, avoiding an insularity. Her clean writing, adept managing of time-shifts, deceptively smooth plotting and dips into metaphor bestow upon the reader those moments of, in the writer’s words, …’a velvet stillness’ (Amundsen). Four stories offer a concluding suite, “autobiographical in feeling, though not, sometimes, entirely so in fact.” With the focus on childhood, their tone accepting, plain, unadorned, these stories harness Munro’s wider themes of memory’s selectivity and its ultimate unreliablity, to the added knowledge the reader is homing in, albeit opaquely, on the author’s life. We will be much the poorer if these final stories signal Munro’s last venture into autobiographical works.