Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Alice Munro

I was mopping the floor when I heard Alice Munro had won the International Man Booker Prize. I carried on mopping, listening to Jane Smiley enthusing about her work. When I started my Phd research on Munro in the early 90s no one had heard of her - except for the writers. She was more widely known by the time I published Alice Munro (Writers & Their Work). But it seemed as though Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage (2002) would be her final book. In interviews she said she'd stopped writing, and and there was a valedictory feeling about the stories; and so I grimly entitled my last chapter 'Ageing, Decay, Abjection'. Two collections later, and with a third on its way this October, she is coming to Dublin to get her prize.

Articles on Munro stress small town life, relationships, the domestic. They sometimes make her sound comfortable and nice. She is not. This is from the title story in The Love of a Good Woman (1998):

In the dreams that came to her now she would be copulating or trying to copulate (sometimes she was prevented by intruders or shifts of circumstances) with utterly forbidden and unthinkable partners. With fat squirmy babies or patients in bandages or her own mother. She would be slick with lust, hollow and groaning with it, and she would set to work with roughness and an attitude of evil pragmatism.

Alice Munro's stories are full of dreams, misconceptions, deceit and distractions. Distraction is an art, I think, listening while mopping (inadequately - there's still plaster dust, only now it's more like runny foundation). What I learnt from her is that stories can go off at a tangent. They don't have to have a theme or to hang together, symbolically or otherwise. Now I'd better go and rinse the mop.

1 comment:

  1. Yes, absolutely. There is this terrible tyranny, I think, in the short story culture, the assumption that stories SHOULD hang together, be neat, roundedly symbolic etc: I tend to think it's a basic expectation fuelling judgements in short story competitions (that idea, expressed by National Short Story judge Martha Kearney last year, of 'the perfect short story'). Yet those stories which 'go off at a tangent', as you put it, are the ones which convey the contingency and uncertainty of life...