“Dear Life,” by Alice Munro, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 310 pages, $26.95.
Alice Munro has been writing the best short stories in English for decades … no one else comes close.
Born in 1931, she is 83 years old this year, but her prose is as timely and fresh as it was in the beginning.
The picture of her on the back dust jacket is that of a slim, wiry old lady with gray-white hair and perfect teeth.
Here are 10 stories, followed by four autobiographical reflections, each one a little masterpiece.
She does not eschew big and unusual words that one must look up in the dictionary, but she makes every effort to write straightforward and easily understandable words, and she succeeds in spades.
Here’s an excerpt from “Leaving Maverley” that speaks for itself and displays her style admirably.
“Committing adultery with a parishioner was bad enough, but it seemed that the minister, instead of keeping it as quiet as possible and slinking off to get rehabilitated or to serve in some forsaken parish in the hinterlands, had chosen to face the music from the pulpit. He had more than confessed.
“Everything had been a sham, he said. His mouthing of the Gospels and the commandments he didn’t fully believe in, and most of all his preachings about love and sex, his conventional, timid and evasive recommendations: a sham.”
Several of the stories are about adultery; I guess that’s a more common experience than I thought. Being a conventional, faithful husband for many years, any contact I have had with adultery has been in fiction.
But one of my regular luncheon companions (Wednesdays), never married, says that it is far from rare. Munro tells us about it in stories that are not complex and difficult to comprehend but plain and direct, often with a surprising twist at the end.
Corrie and Howard have been carrying on behind his wife Lillian’s back (“Corrie”). He sends his paramour money regularly, and they meet when they can. Then Lillian dies. How would you finish a tale like that?
Only one of the stories, “Train,” is difficult and utterly unlike her. It is full of characters left incompletely developed and confusing, and it is too long for a short story. But this splendid author is entitled to one problematic tale, and perhaps everyone else will find it engrossing and splendid.
The autobiographical pieces at the end are every bit as good as the stories that precede them, and I finished the book hoping that Alice Munro lasts a long time and writes more marvelous stories.
Melvyn Schreiber is a physician at the University of Texas Medical Branch. Melvyn Schreiber’s essays are now available as a paperback book (without the book reviews and opera reviews). If you want one, send $15 to him at 12 E. Dansby, Galveston, TX 77551, and he will mail a copy to you. It’s not heavy enough to press your trousers with, but it may please you in other ways.