I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

Home Uncategorized The Need to Disguise

The Need to Disguise

Kevin Stevens
Too Much Happiness, by Alice Munro, Chatto & Windus, 303 pp, £17.99, ISBN: 978-0701183059 On the surface, Alice Munro’s world is a narrow one. Most of her stories are set in small-town Ontario, where she grew up and still lives, with occasional forays into British Columbia, where she lived as a young woman and still winters. Her protagonists are invariably women whose ages, circumstances and concerns are not that distant from those of Munro herself at the different stages of her life. Her themes are domestic and familiar: mother-daughter conflict, sexual coming of age, marital discord, the social differences between men and women and how those differences shape the way we live. This is not to say that Munro is an autobiographical writer. However, as she says herself: “I’ve pretty well followed my own life in terms of what I think about and what I see.” A late starter, she published her first collection in 1968, at the age of thirty-seven. Across forty years she has written twelve collections of stories and a single novel, Lives of Girls and Women, which is really a sequence of stories disguised as a novel. She is a pure short story writer in an age when commerce and taste have led many readers to judge short story writers to be, in the words of Charles McGrath of The New York Times, “people who learn golf by never venturing onto a golf course but instead practicing at a driving range”. The real game, by implication, being the novel. Thus confined, generically and geographically, Munro’s work has occasionally been described, especially early in her career, as limited or regional (as if all realistic fiction isn’t regional). Few critics make that mistake anymore. Serious readers who have spent time with Munro’s books know that she is a modern master, in the tradition of Eudora Welty, John Cheever, and William Trevor, a status formally acknowledged earlier this year when she was the third recipient of the Man Booker International Prize. Her sense of form and her ability to shape narrative to the demands of her subject matter are unmatched. She is anything but narrow. Like the work of all great writers, Munro’s stories are resistant to practical criticism. Analysis of setting, theme, character, language and plot, while it helps us understand her art, is so much less than the full picture. When you finish a Munro story, more often than…

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