Thursday, 10 October 2013

Dear Life, You're Nobel

She wanted to crawl across the bus floor but it was puddled with dirty water that people shook from their jackets and umbrellas as they ducked into the bus to avoid the torrential downpour outside. After wrestling my twisting girl back into her buggy and comforting her with a book and a cracker I sat heavily down in my seat, feeling damp and exhausted, and opened my Twitter feed where the first alert was a notification that Canadian short story write, Alice Munro, had just won the Nobel Prize for literature.

I let out a squeak of joy then immediately opened up my Facebook to post the news.

About a half hour later my friend sent me an excited text message, also telling me the good news. I replied with excessive exclamation points, telling her that I felt like it was my grandma who just won.

That's how excited I am about Alice Munro's win.


When I went to university I decided to study English Literature just because I liked to read. I had no plans beyond this--no idea what purpose this education would serve--I just wanted to read books and discuss them with people who also liked to read. I think I've made it abundantly clear that I am no book snob; I will read pretty much anything I can get my hands on (okay, except for Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey, but those deserve their own blog post about why I don't think the pages are worthy for wiping your ass with...but anyhow...), but while in university it became abundantly clear to me that I am a die-hard devotee of Canadian Literature. I absolutely love it and we have some truly remarkable writers sprinkled across our landscape. Furthermore, it's women writers that I gravitated to.

Margaret Atwood is a no brainer, L. M. Montgomery, Margaret Laurence, Miriam Towes, Carol Shields, Ann-Marie MacDonald, Donna Morrissey, Elizabeth Hay, Amy McKay. The list could seriously go on and on, and of course, there's Alice Munro.

The first time I read a collection of short stories I was ten years old, lying on the pull-out couch at my Nan and Bup's ranch, avoiding the afternoon desert heat that was wilting the landscape around me. I was killing time until evening when I was hoping to harass my aunt into taking me riding, and I picked up a new book I'd bought before we left to visit my grandparents by my favourite author at the time, L. M. Montgomery. As I started into the book I was totally confused about why there wasn't a cohesive plot, why none of the characters repeated into the next 'chapter', and why each chapter seemed to take place in a wildly different setting. It wasn't until the fourth or fifth 'chapter' that I clued in this book was a bunch of small stories.

I wasn't impressed.

I wanted a novel!

Did this stay with me? I don't know, but while in university a professor assigned a few Alice Munro stories for required reading and I remember stubbornly starting the story with the belief I would hate it. How much could take place over ten pages? Rubbish. What a waste of time.

Except, it wasn't.

A lot can take place over ten pages, apparently, and that is Munro's true gift.

Everyone knows that daily life can meander in a common and banal way, so why would we want to read about it? Except under Munro's authorship we do want to read about it. Her stories don't have that bawdy humour you'll find in a Dorothy Parker short, they aren't fluffed up with a Capote quill, and they aren't a fucking slug through the mud like anything of Faulkner's. Reading an Alice Munro story is like floating down a gentle river; you go where the quiet current takes you until all of a sudden you're surprised when you've reached land: you've docked at a surprising, poignant, conclusion.

Her stories are beautiful, and if you haven't read any I encourage you to do so.

My friend claims that the collection The Lives of Girls and Women changed her life, and I can also attest to its beauty. Dear Life is her latest, and possibly final, collection and the final three stories--which Munro attests aren't stories but memories--are delicious.

I am proud she's Canadian and that her prolific career has been recognised.

Go, read, you won't be disappointed.

1 comment:

T said...

I am inspired! Some short stories may be just what I need right now to get my mind off looking up baby stuff whenever I have time to actually read something!