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Alice Munro

A Personal Tribute

By Rachel RobbinsPublished about a month ago 3 min read
7
Alice Munro (1931 - 2024)

Early motherhood is all about snatching time. In between breastfeeds, cradling, napping, crying at the smallest thing, desperate walks around the neighbourhood to catch a glance of other humans, I snatched at trying to regain my reading habit.

I gave birth to my daughter in 2005. It was love at first sight. It was joy and pain and a life that felt like it was scratching at surfaces. Part of my identity was that I was a reader. I liked weighty, complicated novels, with complex characters telling me about the world. I turned to my “To be read” pile and I couldn’t focus. Huge narratives with sweeping character arcs were too difficult, too unnecessary. Words swirled in front of me and I couldn’t remember why I had ever thought reading was a good idea. I needed something where the flesh was softer, and the detail perfect, like my new daughter.

I turned to Alice Munro’s collection of short stories Runaway. And I discovered the joy of the short story.

When my Dad died, my concentration disappeared again. Something was churning in my stomach. I needed solace and I needed an outlet for grief, for creativity and the sense that I had something to say.

A friend bought me a book of short stories about Loss and I remembered that the short story is the way to find the route back home.

I read Alice Munro’s collection Dear Life. And I had a space to be heard and to listen.

After Dad's death I started writing creatively again, and Alice Munro had shown me that a good story didn't need thousands of words.

Alice Munro died this week (13 May 2024). She was 92. I know that she has won the Man Booker International Prize and the Nobel Prize for Literature. So, I know that she is well-known, loved and admired. But somehow I can’t help feeling she is my secret. That when I read her I feel that she is talking to just me. She gave me permission to see that all lives are worth writing about, empathising with, observing and that the quiet conversation is as revolutionary as the speech from a pedestal.

My copy of Runaway

“She believed a woman should keep her hands nice, no matter what kind of work she had to do. She liked to wear inky-blue or plum fingernail polish. And she liked to wear earrings, big and clattery ones, even at her work. She had no use for the little button kind.”

This is one of Munro’s descriptions of Delphine in the story Trespasses from the Runaway collection. You know her too, now, don’t you? You can see her fingers with their dark nail polish tapping their way through her opinions.

My copy of Dear Life

“All this happened in the seventies, though in that town and other small towns like it, the seventies were not as we picture them now, or as I had known them even in Vancouver. The boys’ hair was longer that it had been, but not straggling down their backs and there didn’t seem to be an unusual amount of liberation or defiance in the air.”

This is the opening to Haven from the Dear Life Collection. It tells you that this is a woman for whom detail and small town lives matter. That the personal histories are as important as the big events. She is welcoming you in. She is letting you know what to expect. And you believe she will be honest with you. This is not some shaggy dog tale of rebellion and resistance, sweeping over national concerns. It is local politics from a local reporter.

Now I want to be clear. Alice Munro isn’t a comfy pair of slippers. She isn’t a gentle lullaby. Her invitation to read is sly and disarming. She is interested in the evil in all of us. She does not expect her characters to be good, and neither should we. She is particularly good at bullies, the bullied and the bystanders. Because all of us can harbour dark thoughts and there is just a thin veil between the thought and the action.

“The thought was there and hanging in my mind.

The thought that I could strangle my little sister, who was asleep in the bunk below me and whom I loved more than anybody in the world.”

(Taken from Night in Dear Life)

There is no tragedy in the death of an artist who has lived to 92 having created great works and been applauded and awarded for them.

The tragedy would be, if people stopped reading Alice Munro. She was always a short-story writer. In a world that favours the heft of a novel or the brevity of a poem, she might struggle to find her place on a syllabus. But please, please read her. The twists of her plots, the joy of her descriptions can turn your life inside out.

LifeInspiration
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About the Creator

Rachel Robbins

Writer-Performer based in the North of England. A joyous, flawed mess.

Please read my stories and enjoy. And if you can, please leave a tip. Money raised will be used towards funding a one-woman story-telling, comedy show.

Reader insights

Outstanding

Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!

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Comments (3)

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  • Jay Kantorabout a month ago

    RR ~ With my Respect ~ Jk.in.l.a. Jay Kantor, Chatsworth, California 'Senior' Vocal Author - Vocal Village Community -

  • Kendall Defoe about a month ago

    Glad I'm not the only one to discuss her...

  • Excellent! I will definitely read Munro's work.

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