Book of the Month: January 2013


Dear Life by Alice Munro

Literary Affairs is dedicating the first month of 2013 to the short story and featuring Canadian writer Alice Munro’s new collection Dear Life as our pick of the month…

Once the most widely read genre of fiction, the short story has been experiencing a resurgence in interest, thanks in part to some of the brilliant and original collections that have come out in recent years. As any fan knows, a good short story is like a dazzling gem, small and self-contained, yet containing a whole universe within. Or, as the author Steven Milhauser put it, “by excluding almost everything, [the short story] can give perfect shape to what remains.”

The fourteen stories in Dear Life exemplify this quality perfectly. One of our greatest living writers, Munro is at her best in these spare, deceptively straight-forward and yet mysterious stories set mostly in the 1940s and 50s in Munro’s home of western Ontario. Though her writing style has the stripped-down care of a true master of her craft, these tales of the bitter disappointments and unexpected graces of everyday life truly express the collection’s title. Reading these stories, one is indeed overwhelmed with the “dearness” of life in every sense of the word.


Alice Munro’s peerless ability to give us the essence of a life in often brief but always spacious and timeless stories is once again everywhere apparent in this brilliant new collection. In story after story, she illumines the moment a life is forever altered by a chance encounter or an action not taken, or by a simple twist of fate that turns a person out of his or her accustomed path and into a new way of being or thinking. A poet, finding herself in alien territory at her first literary party, is rescued by a seasoned newspaper columnist, and is soon hurtling across the continent, young child in tow, toward a hoped-for but completely unplanned meeting. A young soldier, returning to his fiancée from the Second World War, steps off the train before his stop and onto the farm of another woman, beginning a life on the move. A wealthy young woman having an affair with the married lawyer hired by her father to handle his estate comes up with a surprising way to deal with the blackmailer who finds them out.

While most of these stories take place in Munro’s home territory — the small Canadian towns around Lake Huron — the characters sometimes venture to the cities, and the book ends with four pieces set in the area where she grew up, and in the time of her own childhood: stories “autobiographical in feeling, though not, sometimes, entirely so in fact.” A girl who can’t sleep imagines night after wakeful night that she kills her beloved younger sister. A mother snatches up her child and runs for dear life when a crazy woman comes into her yard.

Suffused with Munro’s clarity of vision and her unparalleled gift for storytelling, these tales about departures and beginnings, accidents and dangers, and outgoings and homecomings both imagined and real, paint a radiant, indelible portrait of how strange, perilous, and extraordinary ordinary life can be.


Alice Ann Munro (née Laidlaw) is a Canadian short-story writer, the winner of the 2009 Man Booker International Prize for her lifetime body of work, a three-time winner of Canada’s Governor General’s Award for fiction, and a perennial contender for the Nobel Prize. The locus of Munro’s fiction is her native southwestern Ontario. Her stories explore human complexities in a seemingly effortless style

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