The recognition Munro's fiction has earned includes three GOVERNOR-GENERAL's awards (1968, 1978, 1986), two GILLER Prizes (1998, 2004) and the Man Booker International Prize for lifetime achievement in 2009, as well as the Canada-Australia Literary Prize, the Commonwealth Writers' Prize (Canada and the Caribbean), and the O. Henry Award in the US for continuing achievement in short fiction. A list of her output includes: DANCE OF THE HAPPY SHADES (1968), LIVES OF GIRLS AND WOMEN (1971), Something I've Been Meaning to Tell You (1974), Who Do You Think You Are? (1978), The Moons of Jupiter (1982), The Progress of Love (1986), Friend of My Youth (1990), Open Secrets (1994), The Love of a Good Woman (1998), Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage (2001), Runaway (2004), The View from Castle Rock (2006), Too Much Happiness (2009) and Dear Life (2012). Her work has been widely anthologized; several collections have also appeared.
Numerous critical studies have acknowledged Munro's mastery of the cultural and vocal tones of a region; her acuteness in delineating social class is now a critical commonplace. Munro often narrates her stories in a manner reflecting the outlooks of her relatively unsophisticated characters. They appear before us as if we had bumped into them at the mall or the hairdresser's or the home and school meeting, relating their experiences in ways that the author then uses to reveal deeper meanings. Her amplitude of style and approach, it is often noted, give her short stories the moral density of lengthier novels. Munro's craft exerts a radial power, in which a central motif or situation mutates or recurs throughout various contexts within a story, often concluding with a reflection upon experience that seems anything but definitive. Munro's is the fiction for a culture in which the nostalgia for lost certainties seems as potent as the unshakeable realization of that loss. Written within the conventions of literary realism, her fiction reflects the preoccupations of figures who must remain satisfied with momentary illumination rather than life-changing revelations. Her international audience finds its own uncertainties and concerns paralleled in those that shape her characters' experiences. Time spent in re-reading her stories is seldom wasted.
Two representative stories, "Meneseteung" (Friend of My Youth), and the title story in The Love of a Good Woman, display Alice Munro's skill at depicting, then questioning and redefining, the experience of her characters. Both offer accounts of women engaged, however unwittingly, in processes of self-definition that can take the form of wary hesitation in the face of new prospects, a process concluding in understanding rather than happiness. Almeda Joynt Roth of "Meneseteung" - based remotely upon obscure 19th century women writers in the Munro Tract - must shatter the mirror of her nostalgic historical poetry when faced with the hard facts of sex and blood. Jarvis Poulter, a commercial pillar of the town, has made some tentative gestures toward Almeda. Her distress at his casual disregard toward a lower-class female victim of male violence leads her to deflect his overtures. The story-within-the-story concludes with Almeda enduring the start of her menstrual period, under the influence of a pain-killer, reconciled to an unprotected, unmarried destiny that will not end well. The tale's intrusive, yet distant narrator makes the story's meaning more complex with an admission of her own inability to grasp exactly what has taken place in Almeda's sensibility.
Uncertainty also marks the conclusion of Munro's "The Love of a Good Woman," whose protagonist Enid lingers in suspense as the male who has attracted her interest approaches. Is he propelled by desire, or by malice? The story opens with the discovery of a local optometrist's automobile, along with his body, sunk beneath the river. The reader - who already knows that someone donated the optometrist's gear to the local museum- learns a version of what lies behind the death by water, and the effect of this knowledge upon Enid. Her role as caregiver for a dying "bad" woman, the unreliable tale-bearing of that dying woman, and the power this woman's husband exerts over Enid's refined sensibilities leads to the question that ends the story. Such a tale, with its unabashed usage of such formula-fictional devices as the mysterious death of one character, the reluctant romantic involvement of the nurse and the inscrutability of the male figure, displays Munro's powers as a fiction writer. The story's progression through layers of consciousness and association, alongside the delicate architecture of the story's telling, demonstrates how Munro can net both "literary" and general readers within her audience.
It is tempting for Canadian readers to focus upon Munro's usage of specifically Canadian spaces and times. Munro's soundest achievement as a fiction writer, however, lies in her power to express what her characters experience as a more or less permanent condition of uncertainty and ambivalence. Her skill lies in rendering these layers of consciousness in the idiom of her time and place, and conveying them in deceptively simple fashion.
Various adaptations of her stories have appeared on television: Away from Her (2006; dir. Sarah POLLEY) is a noteworthy film version of Munro's "The Bear Came Over the Mountain," from her 2001 collection Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage, and the short film of "Boys and Girls" won an Oscar in 1984. Robert Thacker's literary biography Alice Munro: Writing Her Lives appeared in 2005.
Author DENNIS DUFFY
E.D. Blodgett, Alice Munro (1988); Ildiko de Papp Carrington, Controlling the Uncontrollable: The Fiction of Alice Munro (1989); Neil Kalman Besner, Introducing Alice Munro's Lives of Girls and Women (1990); Beverly Rasporich, Dance of the Sexes: Art and Gender in the Fiction of Alice Munro (1990); Catherine Sheldrick Ross, Alice Munro: A Double Life (1992); Magdalene Redekop, Mothers and Other Clowns: The Stories of Alice Munro (1992); Louis MacKendrick, Some Other Reality: Alice Munro's Something I've Been Meaning to Tell You (1993); James Carscallen, The Other Country: Patterns in the Writing of Alice Munro (1993); Ajay Heble, The Tumble of Reason: Alice Munro's Discourse of Absence (1994); Coral Ann Howells, Alice Munro (1998); Robert Thacker, ed. The Rest of the Story: Critical Essays on Alice Munro (1999).
Links to Other Sites
This site features synopses of Alice Munro's books published by Random House.
Search for reviews of books written by Alice Munro, Canada’s quintessential short story writer. From McClelland and Stewart Ltd.
A biography of Alice Munro and a chronology of her works. A British Council website.
Listen to the Radio Minute about Alice Munro from the website for the Historica-Dominion Institute.
BBC: Alice Munro
Listen to a BBC interview with writer Alice Munro, who talks about her short story collection "The View from Castle Rock." Also reveals "how and when she first discovered the magic of books and reading." Click on the link at the bottom of the page to download the mp3 file of radio feature.
Man Booker International Prize
The website for the Man Booker International Prize. Click on "Explore the archive" for profiles of previous winners of this most prestigious award.
Shawnadithit grew anxious waiting for her uncle, Longnon, to return to camp at the junction of Badger Brook and the Exploits River, deep in the wilds of Newfoundland...