Critical Assessment

“That Alice Munro, now 81, is one of the great short story writers not just of our time but of any time ought to go without saying by now. This new volume — her 14th, not counting a collection of selected stories that came out in 1996 — is further proof of her mastery, and also a reminder that unlike a lot of accomplished short story writers — unlike William Trevor, say, her only living rival — Munro did not hit a characteristic note early on and then stick with it. Over the years her work has deepened and enlarged. . . .

“Munro is among the least fanciful of short story writers, seldom resorting to an image or a metaphor. This may reflect a lifelong habit of Canadian understatement — a suspicion of cleverness and a resistance to making too much of things — but it also accords with a sense in her fiction that the world is strange enough, without need of embellishment.”

Charles McGrath, “The Sense of an Ending: ‘Dear Life,’ Stories by Alice Munro,” The New York Times, November 16, 2012.

First Excerpt

“Then he became the third person I’d asked, ‘What do you think Caro had in mind?’

“The counsellor had said that we couldn’t know. ‘Likely she herself didn’t know what she wanted. Attention? I don’t think she meant to drown herself. Attention to how bad she was feeling?’

“Ruthann had said, ‘To make your mother do what she wanted? Make her smarten up and see that she had to go back to your father?’

“Neal said, ‘It doesn’t matter. Maybe she thought she could paddle better than she could. Maybe she didn’t know how heavy winter clothes can get. Or that there wasn’t anybody in a position to help her.’

“He said to me, ‘Don’t waste your time. You’re not thinking what if you had hurried up and told, are you? Not trying to get in on the guilt?’

“I said that I had considered what he was saying, but no.

“‘The thing is to be happy,’ he said. ‘No matter what. Just try that. You can. It gets to be easier and easier. It’s nothing to do with circumstances. You wouldn’t believe how good it is. Accept everything and then tragedy disappears. Or tragedy lightens, anyway, and you’re just there, going along easy in the world.’

“Now, goodbye.”

book-popup  Second Excerpt

“For years I thought I might run into him. I lived, and still live, in Toronto. It seemed to me that everybody ended up in Toronto at least for a little while. Of course that hardly means that you will get to see that person, provided that you should in any way want to.

“It finally happened. Crossing a crowded street where you could not even slow down. Going in opposite directions. Staring, at the same time, a bare shock on our time-damaged faces.

“He called out, ‘How are you?’ and I answered, ‘Fine.’ Then added for good measure, ‘Happy.’

“At the moment this was only generally true. I was having some kind of dragged-out row with my husband, about our paying a debt run up by one of his children. I had gone that afternoon to a show at an art gallery, to get myself into a more comfortable frame of mind.

“He called back to me once more:

“‘Good for you.’

“It still seemed as if we could make our way out of that crowd, that in a moment we would be together. But just as certain that we would carry on in the way we were going. And so we did. No breathless cry, no hand on my shoulder when I reached the sidewalk. Just that flash, that I had seen in an instant, when one of his eyes opened wider. It was the left eye, always the left, as I remembered. And it always looked so strange, alert and wondering, as if some whole impossibility had occurred to him, one that almost made him laugh.

“For me, I was feeling something the same as when I left Amundsen, the train carrying me still dazed and full of disbelief.

“Nothing changes really about love.”