Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Alice Munro

I picked up the latest Munro story collection sometime recently while sitting in a relative's den. It's so well-written, it's hard not to admire at first--you're in such good hands. But I was alone in the house, it seems, and sitting in that suburban cul de sac in a quiet Northern town reading about Munro's lonely women filled me with rage and nervous energy. I wanted to get in the car, turn Nirvana up loud and read about death or joy--anything intense. Too much quiet desperation. This, from Lydia Millet in the Globe and Mail puts its finger on that sense of intense claustrophobia:
And yet -- and yet -- given that what Munro does, she does with immaculate precision -- why always, with such a richness of skill, this insistent choice on the purely personal, the proximate world of the self and its near relations? In the cosmology of this world, the personal, social world, the individual is seen delicately negotiating a balance with friends and family: Her journey is the steady sun around which all planets revolve.
This is a fair criticism and I agree. It also makes me feel a little bad: she is so much a better writer than most and I am so overwhelmed by the maleness of the blogosphere this week, that criticizing a woman for being small, domestic, and minor rubs me the wrong way even as it is true that Alice Munro is starting to give me a mild case of the Anita Brookners.

All of this reminds me of Mark Thwaite’s comments on Roth: among the few excellent, established, prolific writers, there are going to be very few whose books are a must-read for any one of us. Most of us are not “completists” and would rather read the best of Alice Munro than all of her. For those of us who are not fans, it can get exhausting to be reminded of a new trip to that tiresome world that we visited once and where we are glad not to live, whether it’s the breakneck wondrousness of Rushdie, the wry sophistication of Atwood, or the bleak railway stations on Canada’s plains.

I got the link from Jenny who got it from Ed.

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