Kicking Down the Door, Part 3

Hey, this is part of a series on writers who kicked down a metaphorical door with their writing. Like Marie Curie with science and Little Richard with music.

Alice Munro passed away in May at the age of 92, after a long career publishing fiction. The first unusual thing about her is that she only wrote short stories, never a novel. The even more unusual thing is what she did with her short stories. 

Reading Munro takes patience. The writing style and characters aren’t flashy, most of the stories about folks living in small Canadian towns, facing the kinds of things you face in life.

The stories seldom start with a hook. For example, here’s the opening line of “The Bear Came Over the Mountain”:

Fiona lived in her parents’ house, in the town where she and Grant went to university.

Gosh, nothing terribly exciting there. Indeed, after reading the first few paragraphs of a Munro story, you might be tempted to set it aside. If you stick with it, however, you’ll soon find yourself inside a tunnel that keeps leading you deeper into something fascinating.

As in “The Bear Came Over the Mountain.” Fiona and Grant are a married couple in their golden years. When Fiona discovers she has dementia, she consents to enter a “home” when it gets bad enough, which it does. One day Grant comes to visit and finds that Fiona has taken a beau at the home, something that happens when spouses forget that they’re married. But did Fiona really forget, or is she slyly chiding Grant for all those casual affairs he used to have? Either way, Fiona is genuinely upset when her beau’s wife removes him from the home. And then Grant begs the beau’s wife to bring her husband back, hoping to make his wife happy. And that tunnel keeps on deepening.

Did I mention that her short stories are long? A good deal longer than they’re supposed to be. When you’re inside them, though, they don’t feel long because they’re delivering the depth and complexity of a novel, leaping through time and evolutions so seamlessly you barely feel it until you’re done, dazed by what you’ve been through.

Though considered one of the best—if not the best—writer of contemporary short stories, Munro was a modest person. She led a quiet life and had no real interest in publicity or accolades (she won all the big awards). As she said, “I always got lunch for my children.”

If you forced me to pick my all-time favorite short story, I would tap Munro’s “Carried Away.” Don’t get me started on how wondrous I find it.

Alex Steele,

Gotham President

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.