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Alice Munro, RIP

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A word on the person who I considered the greatest living writer.

Alice Munro’s stories always touched me deeply, going back to when I first read them about 20 years ago. Her stories were deceptively simple and, like many great artists, revolved largely around a single theme or two. Many of Munro’s stories can be summed up something like this–a woman from a small Ontario town gets to Toronto, explores herself a bit, gets married too young, the marriage goes south, she moves to British Columbia, she rediscovers herself, she has complex relations with her family, and she ends up in a better but ambivalent place. But within this story, which is more or less her own life, there are worlds of possibilities that she explored in one of the most competitive and difficult genres of writing–the short story.

I am not going to remember the story off the top of my head, but I remember exactly how old I was and where I was when I read it. It was 2008, I was 34, and I was on a hotel bed in Lisbon, my first ever trip to Europe thanks to a conference. Munro wrote something in a story like “They were in their early 30s and began to realize that what they were living was their life” and I thought, at that moment in time especially, that this was the most profound thing I had ever read. And it was true too, as I have discovered in the 16 years since, where nothing much changes and the choices we made back then are the choices that define us today.

Story after story has gems like this. The remarkable consistency of her work is also astounding. Are there bad Alice Munro stories? No? At least I haven’t read them. There are better ones I suppose, but that’s a matter of taste and in the end, we’d have to be cutting the garlic Goodfellas level thin to rank them.

I was so happy when Munro won the Nobel in 2013. She didn’t travel to the ceremony, already thinking herself too frail, though she remained active for a few more years. I was surprised too. The Nobel committee seems to prefer Big Themes. She wasn’t a political writer, outside of her characters often going through the feminist movement in a way that reflected her own life. This kind of personal driven narrative has often eluded the Nobel committee’s sights. It was one of the finest choices they ever made.

RIP. What a legend and someone who just meant so much to my life.

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