Lives in short
Alice Munro’s new short-story collection
illuminates the radiance of everyday life
By Ellen Schwartz
IN ALICE MUNRO’S 1971 novel, Lives of Girls and The Atlantic and The Paris Review.
Women, a character named Del Jordon is writing a Falling in and out of love, coping with loss, expe-story about life in small-town Ontario. Del describes riencing moments of quiet elation, rebelling against
her determination to capture not only the facts of her the provincialism of one’s upbringing—this is the
characters’ lives but the truth as well: “What I wanted stuff of Munro’s tales. In many of the stories, charac-was every last thing, every layer of speech and ters gradually let go of their expectations of life; they
thought, stroke of light on bark or walls, come to accept what they’re given.
every smell, pothole, pain, crack, delu- “Maybe that’s natural as one gets
sion, held still and held together—radi- older,” Munro says. “I see people ‘going
ant, everlasting.” on.’ Perhaps they’re living with things—
It is those radiant, everlasting grief or loss or failure—that they
moments—the stuff of ordinary life, once thought unacceptable, but they’re
crystallized, illuminated, infused with still content.”
meaning—that define an Alice Munro Some stories are triggered by a
story. The Canadian author, whose memory or an anecdote, but more
eighth short-story collection, Runaway, often they start with a feeling that is
garnered Canada’s 2004 Governor Gen- rooted in a place. “Then I put people in
eral’s Award, is known for her ability to it, and then add details. I don’t know
capture human experience in elegant what the central theme is as I’m writing
yet understated prose. the first draft; I figure it out as I write.
Pennie Clark Ianniciello
Costco Book Buyer
How does she do it? How is she able Alice Munro The meaning or focus gets clearer
to encapsulate a life in a page, to reveal between the first and second drafts.”
deeply held emotion in a gesture, to convey what she An example is the story “Passion” in Runaway.
calls the “shameless, marvelous, shattering absur- “A friend told me about when he’d badly cut his foot
dity” of life? and had it stitched up by a doctor who was a recov-
Well, it helps to have grown up on a farm in ering alcoholic. That was the starting point. Initially
rural Ontario, she tells The Connection in a recent I thought it was like a story of sexual attraction, but
interview. “Isolation leaves plenty of room for imag- it turned into something entirely different: the story
ining and reading. Plus I had a long walk to school, of the doctor’s despair.” In the final version, the only
so I made up stories along the way.” element that remained from the original anecdote
A precocious reader, Munro read Charles wastheinjuredfoot.
Dickens’ A Child’s History of England at the age of 7. Munro’s characters are fully human, with all
She also devoured the novels of Lucy Maud their foibles and complexities.“People are so com-Montgomery, especially Emily of New Moon, whose plicated, and that’s what fascinates me,” she says.
aspiring-writer heroine served as inspiration for so “I’m interested in characters who are unpredictable,
many budding authors. who feel conflicted about what they will do next.”
Munro began writing in her teens and pub- So what will Alice Munro do next? “I have no
lished her first story in 1950 while attending univer- idea,” she says. “I have ideas, but I don’t know if I’ll
sity. After a hiatus to marry and raise three children, resist them.”
she released her first collection of stories, Dance of And then she laughs. C
the Happy Shades, in 1968. Since then she has published one novel and seven more story collections, Ellen Schwartz is the author of nine books for
and her stories regularly appear in The New Yorker, children. She lives in Burnaby, British Columbia.
number on a post- No purchase is necessary.
giveaway card or letter and Entries must be received
send it to: Alice or postmarked by midnight,
COSTCO HAS 10 signed Munro, December 1, 2005. Void
copies of Runaway, by The Costco where prohibited. Employ-
Alice Munro, to give away. Connection, ees of Costco and their fami-
To enter, print your P.O. Box 34088, lies are not eligible. Winners
name, membership number, Seattle, WA 98124-1088, or will be notified by mail.
address and daytime phone fax it to (425) 313-6718. One entry per household.
WHAT CAN I SAY about
Alice Munro that hasn’t
been said? She’s an amazing author. This month’s
Book Pick, Runaway, a
collection of short stories,
is no exception.
I recently read an
interview posted at
in which Munro was
asked how she is able to
create an entire life in a
page. She replied, “I
always have to know my
characters in a lot of
depth.… I know what
happened before and
what will happen after
the part of their lives I'm
dealing with. I can't see
them just now, packed
into the stress of the
moment. So I suppose I
want to give as much of
them as I can.”
It is obvious the
author knows her characters because readers will
come away from this
book feeling they know
each of them as well. In
these stories Munro captures a realness that
would take other authors
an entire novel to create.
Runaway is available
in most Costco warehouses and at
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on this month’s book to:
NOVEMBER 2005 The Costco Connection 31