Dear Life (Paperback)
Stories (Vintage International)
Vintage, 9780307743725, 336pp.
Publication Date: July 30, 2013
December 2012 Indie Next List
— Karen Frank, Northshire Bookstore, Manchester Center, VT
View the List
A Washington Post Notable Work of Fiction
A Best Book of the Year: The Atlantic, NPR, San Francisco Chronicle, Vogue, AV Club
In story after story in this brilliant new collection, Alice Munro pinpoints the moment a person is forever altered by a chance encounter, an action not taken, or a simple twist of fate. Her characters are flawed and fully human: a soldier returning from war and avoiding his fiancee, a wealthy woman deciding whether to confront a blackmailer, an adulterous mother and her neglected children, a guilt-ridden father, a young teacher jilted by her employer. Illumined by Munro's unflinching insight, these lives draw us in with their quiet depth and surprise us with unexpected turns. And while most are set in her signature territory around Lake Huron, some strike even closer to home: an astonishing suite of four autobiographical tales offers an unprecedented glimpse into Munro's own childhood. Exalted by her clarity of vision and her unparalleled gift for storytelling, Dear Life shows how strange, perilous, and extraordinary ordinary life can be.
About the Author
Praise For Dear Life: Stories (Vintage International)…
“One of the great short story writers not just of our time but of any time.” —The New York Times Book Review
“Wise and unforgettable. Dear Life is a wondrous gift; a reminder of why Munro’s work endures.” —The Boston Globe
“Unquestionable evidence of her unfaded abilities. . . . Reading these stories will tell you something about Alice Munro’s life, but it will tell you more about Alice Munro’s mind—and, not entirely surprisingly, this proves to be even more compelling.” —The New Republic
“Alice Munro is not only revered, she is cherished. . . . Dear Life is as rich and astonishing as anything she has done before.” —The New York Review of Books
“There is no writer quite as good at illustrating the foibles of love, the confusions and frustrations of life or the inner cruelty and treachery that can be revealed in the slightest gestures and changes of tone. . . . The stories of Dear Life violate a host of creative writing rules, but they establish yet again Munro’s psychological acuity, clear-eyed acceptance of frailties and mastery of the short story form.” —The Washington Post
“Alice Munro demonstrates once again why she deserves her reputation as a master of short fiction.” —O, The Oprah Magazine
“Exquisite. . . . No other author can tell quite so much with quite so little. The modest surfaces of Munro’s lapidary sentences conceal rich veins of ore.” —Chicago Tribune
“Munro’s wonderfully frank and compassionate stories suggest that perseverance, the determination to keep at the work of living, can invest a life with dignity through the end of one’s days.” —San Francisco Chronicle
“Absorbing. . . . Most haunting of all are the four autobiographical sketches that end the book, which display Munro’s gift of observation and ability to trace big emotional arcs in short brushstrokes.” —Entertainment Weekly
“Munro’s best collection yet.” —The Philadelphia Inquirer
“Remarkable. . . . Masterfully evokes the relationship between people and the places they inhabit.” —Time Out New York
“Munro has an uncanny knack of convincing the reader that the characters have real lives before the stories commence and continuing existences after. . . . This is simply a good writer doing what she loves.” —The Guardian (London)
“In acknowledging Alice Munro’s pre-eminence in the world of contemporary short fiction it’s become fashionable to describe her as the ‘Canadian Chekhov,’ but that title barely hints at the scope of her literary influence. Dear Life, her 13th collection, only serves to burnish her reputation for creating intelligent, sophisticated stories out of inarguably humble materials.” —Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Virtuosic. . . . Encompass a wide variety of always-unpredictable characters—young, old, middle-aged—caught in circumstances that have the bright erratic flow of life itself.” —The Seattle Times
“Munro is who she is, and we are fortunate to have her. No other author can contain so much life, and so many lives, in such few pages. . . . They can be read over and over, dependably revealing more with each reading.” —The Miami Herald
“Alice Munro has long been acknowledged as one of Canada’s literary treasures. This new volume, with its historical slant, its autobiographical material, its impressionistic descriptions of scenery, its occasional nostalgia and pleasing irony, confirms her reputation.” —The Washington Times
“How does Munro manage such great effects on a relatively small canvas? It’s a question that most anyone who has seriously attempted to write a short story in the last 20 years has pondered. . . . Munro has a genius, no empty word here, for selecting details that keep unfolding in the reader’s mind.” —Los Angeles Times
“Reading Alice Munro is like drinking water—one hardly notices the words, only the marvel at being quenched. . . . Behind each sentence is a world, conjured more distinctly than in many an entire novel.” —The Plain Dealer
“Alice Munro . . . has earned every bit of her reputation as being one of the best living short story writers, in English if not in the entire world. . . . This collection represents fiction at its finest—captivating, complex, lifelike.” —Richmond Times-Dispatch
“These stories are perfect. . . . Dear Life is a collection as rich and surprising as any in Alice Munro’s deep career.” —National Post
“Alice Munro has always been the poet of the unexpected passion that comes seemingly out nowhere and changes a character’s life. . . . She is, and has been for decades, one of our most important writers, one whose work represents all the most essential and pleasurable aspects of literature, and which reminds us of what great literature is: You know it when you see it.” —The Globe and Mail (Toronto)
Praise from fellow writers:
“Her work felt revolutionary when I came to it, and it still does.” —Jhumpa Lahiri
“She is one of the handful of writers, some living, most dead, whom I have in mind when I say that fiction is my religion.” —Jonthan Franzen
“The authority she brings to the page is just lovely.” —Elizabeth Strout
“She’s the most savage writer I’ve ever read, also the most tender, the most honest, the most perceptive.” —Jeffery Eugenides
“Alice Munro can move characters through time in a way that no other writer can.”—Julian Barnes
“She is a short-story writer who…reimagined what a story can do.” —Loorie Moore
“There’s probably no one alive who’s better at the craft of the short story.” —Jim Shepard
“A true master of the form.” —Salman Rushdie
“A wonderful writer.” —Joyce Carol Oates
Conversation Starters from ReadingGroupChoices.com
- “To Reach Japan”
- What are Greta’s feelings toward her husbandand her marriage as she is leaving for Toronto? What remains unspokenbetween them?
- Discuss what Katy understands and experiences onthis journey (see especially the description at the bottom of page 26).What does Katy feel about Greg, and then about Harris Bennett? Why doesMunro end the story as she does, with Katy pulling away from hermother? Does the story suggest that there is an inevitable cost when awoman attempts to break through the limitations of her life?
- Discuss the paragraph beginning, “It would become hard to explain, lateron in her life, just what was okay in that time and what was not” (6),in light of Greta’s actions. She is a poet: How troubling is the gapbetween her identities as wife and mother, and as poet and artist?
- What do Oneida and the narrator have in common? Howare they very different? The narrator is embarrassed that she has takencare of him when he was ill, and assumes that he is “like a neuter toher” (146–147). Why does he misunderstand Oneida’s willingness to carefor him, and her desire to live with him (148)?
- What does thesight of the baby skunks evoke, at the end of the story? What light doesthe narrator’s preface (133-34) bring to your sense of what hashappened between him and Oneida?
- As in “Pride,” a man underestimates a woman who is attached to him:discuss what is different about the motivations and desires of thecharacters in the two stories.
- How surprising is it whenCorrie realizes that Howard has been keeping the money supposedly meantfor Lillian’s blackmail payments? How does Corrie figure this out? Howdo you interpret the final paragraph?
- After the removal of a tumor, Belle is in a strangestate of mind and tells Jackson about what happened on the day herfather stepped in front of an oncoming train (196-98). She is relievedto have spoken about this memory. What effect does this conversationhave on Jackson? What makes Jackson decide not to return to thehospital, or to Belle’s house, which he stands to possibly inherit?
- Do the story of Jackson’s relationship with Ileane Bishop, and what welearn about his stepmother’s abuse, offer an adequate explanation forJackson’s transient life? What are the human costs, in this story, ofwhat Belle calls “just the mistakes of humanity” (198)?
- “In Sight of the Lake”
- At what point do you understand that thenarrator is having a dream? What strange details indicate this? What isdreamlike about the narrator’s efforts to find the doctor’s office?
- In what ways does the story most accurately represent the disorientation and confusion that come with aging and memory loss?
- Franklin wrote a poem about his passionate affair withDolly just before the war, and now, when he is eighty-three, Dollyturns up selling cosmetics. Is the narrator’s reaction overblown?
- What is comical or incongruous about this story? What does it say about the intersection of aging, memory, and passion?
- “The Eye”
- What aspects of the mother’s behavior are troubling toher daughter and make her welcome an alliance with Sadie? What isadmirable about Sadie, especially given the time period?
- What is strange or uncanny about the idea that Sadie, in death, mighthave moved her eyelid? The narrator thinks, “this sight fell intoeverything I knew about Sadie and somehow, as well, into whateverspecial experience was owing to myself” (269). How do you interpret thismoment and its meaning?
- The narrator attributes the strangeness of her thoughtsthat particular summer to a special status, “all inward,” conferred onher by learning that during a routine appendectomy, the doctor hadremoved a tumor “the size of a turkey’s egg” (275, 272). She says, “Iwas not myself” (276). What do you make of the narrator’s efforts toexplain the reasons for her state of mind and the worry that she couldstrangle her little sister (277)?
- How does the encounterwith her father help the narrator to deal with her fear about herthoughts? Why is it significant to the impact of this encounter that inthis family, emotional troubles or worries usually go unexpressed?
- How is the mother’s character revealed in herreaction to the presence of a prostitute at the dance, as channeledthrough the daughter’s observations? Why does the narrator find thevoices of the soldiers so intriguing and so comforting?
- Whatdoes the story express about the difficult relationship between mothersand daughters, especially regarding the mother’s supposed role as modeland mentor in her daughter’s adolescence?
- “Dear Life”
- The title of this story comes from the account themother gives the narrator of hiding her, when she was an infant, from astrange and threatening woman who used to live in the family’s house(318). This and other salient memories combine to create a picture of anoften difficult family life: the mother’s physical decline, the failureof the father’s fox farm and his later work in a foundry, the failureof the narrator to return home for her mother’s funeral. Does thisstory seem to embrace the idea that a significant task for the writer isto extend understanding, imagination, and empathy into one’s own past,and to make amends for errors, cruelties, and misjudgments there? Seequestion fourth bullet below.
- Questions about Dear Life
- What is the effect of the collection as a whole, given the order, pacing, and content of the stories?What view of life does it project?
- Compare the treatment of women by men in “Train,” “Amundsen,” “Haven,” and “Corrie.” Why do these women allow themselves to be lied to or taken advantage of?What is the dynamic that permits an uneven power relationship?
- Compare the endings of several stories.Do they end in a state of suspension or resolution?Think about how the endings invite questioning, reflection, and interpretation.
- Discuss the last four stories in light of Munro’s brief introduction of them as “not quite stories,” as “autobiographical in feeling, though not . . . entirely so in fact,” and as “the first and last—and the closest—things I have to say about my own life” (255).Should they be read as if they were fictional stories, or somehow differently?If you were to tell four important stories from your own life, what would they be?