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Falselogic
11-01-2013, 10:13 AM
Alice Munro is Canada's best know author and short story writer. She's won a number of awards in the frigid north but this year she also won A Nobel prize in literature!

This month we'll be exploring Munro's latest collection and what some critics consider the apex of her style.

Dear Life by Alice Munro (http://www.amazon.com/Dear-Life-Stories-Vintage-International/dp/0307743721/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1383322407&sr=8-1&keywords=dear+life+alice+munro)

MikeDinosaur
11-02-2013, 10:42 AM
Not crazy about the first story. Sort of frustrating. Everything about the drunken party is very well-observed, very precise, but the main character lady is just kind of a sketch. She wants this guy, then she wants that guy, and she's kind of an idiot, and oops! where's her daughter. Just didn't really feel like anything was at stake for me, personally.

Little Sampson
11-02-2013, 08:43 PM
Just finished "To Reach Japan." I'm not sure how I feel at this point. I really enjoyed Munro's prose, and if I weren't reading for this club, would likely keep reading for that alone.

I sort of agree with Mike that it was all a bit unassuming, but I also think there was more to Greta's flightiness than just being fickle and flighty. I didn't sympathize with her, but I felt like I could see reasons behind why she acts how she does and how it all wrapped around to her self-reflection near the end, immediately followed by her not actually changing.

In any case, I am certainly excited to read more.

Karzac
11-03-2013, 05:14 AM
Haven't gotten to this yet. I do find it interesting that you say Munro is Canada's best known author. A month ago, I would have said that was Margaret Atwood, hands down, but now it probably is Munro. A Nobel Prize can do that, I guess.

Falselogic
11-03-2013, 10:59 AM
Haven't gotten to this yet. I do find it interesting that you say Munro is Canada's best known author. A month ago, I would have said that was Margaret Atwood, hands down, but now it probably is Munro. A Nobel Prize can do that, I guess.

I wouldn't have known either one was Canadian if people here hadn't of told me.

Karzac
11-03-2013, 12:51 PM
I wouldn't have known either one was Canadian if people here hadn't of told me.

Really? Both write about Canada quite a lot. Maybe not Atwood so much now, but the book that made her famous was a treatise on Canadian literature.

Falselogic
11-03-2013, 01:42 PM
Really? Both write about Canada quite a lot. Maybe not Atwood so much now, but the book that made her famous was a treatise on Canadian literature.

I assume every writer is American. I'm terrible.

Karzac
11-08-2013, 06:20 AM
I've read the first story and am part way through the second. So far this is very Munro: a sort of airy, disconnected, introspective feel to the writing with events often passing over the characters without comment and sometimes shaking them to their cores. I'm enjoying it.

Droewyn
11-08-2013, 08:57 AM
I'm going to pick this up after payday next week!

Evil Dead Junkie
11-09-2013, 12:33 AM
I picked it up as well. Going to start tomorrow.

Though I do question the decision to choose her based on what I've read. (http://www.theonion.com/articles/thunk-u-for-nobbel-prise-me-happie-now,34171/)

Evil Dead Junkie
11-09-2013, 12:47 PM
I've read the first three stories. The precision of the language and observation is admirable. The effect that she gets from such simple language remonds me a bit of Daniel Woodrell.

That being said the storys so far have been a bit genteel for my taste. The usual college lit carefully observed, emotionally removed, epiphany thing. More Updike than O'Connor. The third was the best of these. But It felt like some of the stories posted in the general book club thread had a bit morelife to them. I hope we get a couple more in that vein before things are through. I'm having tobreak up my reading with chapters from a Robert Crais book just to get a bitof vulgarity.

Karzac
11-09-2013, 09:05 PM
The fourth story has a bit more of an edge to it. But generally, if you want crazy shit happening, Munro is not who you should be reading. She writes about the mundane, about the insecurities that plague everybody in their everyday lives. There's generally a fair amount of sex though.

Anyway, I'm on the fifth story, "Pride", right now. So far "Leaving Maverly" and "Gravel" have been my favourites.

Evil Dead Junkie
11-10-2013, 12:10 PM
Well I don't necessarily need you know interdimensional vortexes. Gravel Pit was abit more in line with what I was expecting. I don't mean to be too disparging. When I compare an author's style to Daniel Woodrell thats about as high of a compliment as I can give. The precision of image she gets with such simplistic language is nothing short of remarkable.

Grignr
11-10-2013, 07:41 PM
Canada is a bleak place full of miserable adulterers who accidentally meet each other in Toronto (when not remembering their dead classmates (who lie in unmarked graves)).

I may have to go watch a Downton Abbey Christmas special to cheer myself up after this book.

I'm just finishing up the Finale, which are four final semi-autobiographical stories. The protagonist is still alive so far.

The grandmother who says it's better to roll up your clothes instead of folding them when packing is totally right, though.

Evil Dead Junkie
11-14-2013, 12:42 PM
So I finished this a couple of days ago. I'm not at all surprised that Munro is one of Franzen's favorite authors, for all the good and bad that that implies.

Karzac
11-14-2013, 02:30 PM
Reading "Train" right now. One thing I like, speaking as a Torontian, is the amount of information I can infer about characters simply from knowing the context surrounding them. For instance, when Belle says that she went to Bishop Strachan, it immediately changed my impression of her and her family and made the character that much more interesting.

MikeDinosaur
11-14-2013, 09:23 PM
After sort of hating the first story it took me a bit to come back to the book. The second story was a little rough for me, too. It had an interesting plot, an interesting setting, and some interesting characters, but the main character was almost maddeningly passive through the whole thing. I got excited when she started jousting with the hospital director at dinner and rebelling in her friend's pinafor performance, but then it was like, "alright, enough fun! Get back to representing wartime female paralysis!" I would have preferred a story about her friend.

The next two stories I really enjoyed, though. I was sort of gasping by the time the policeman walked out of the hospital at the end. His change of heart about the girl was really real and earned. The big problem I usually have with contemporary short fiction is that the end is just this lesson that flies out of heaven for no reason at all. But this came out of his character in a way that made sense and enriched everything that came before it.

Gravel was also pretty good.

So far I don't think this is her best stuff. If you find these even half-way interesting Istill suggest reading the selected stories. "The Beggar Maid" and "Wild Swans" alone are enough to stake a career on. But I think even here her highs are higher than anything Franzen's ever done.

Edit: Never using swype to write a forum response again. Jesus Christ.

Karzac
11-15-2013, 07:47 AM
Actually, if you want stories like "The Beggar Maid" and "Wild Swans" I would recommend reading Who Do You Think You Are? which is the collection they came from. Although they were published at separate times, all the stories follow the same character, which gives you a bit more context. I'd still say that Lives of Girls and Women is a better book, but MikeDinosaur is right about those stories being great. "Wild Swans" in particular is really weird and good.

Anyway, I think "Leaving Maverley," "Gravel" and "Haven" are all really good stories. I agree that a lot of passive characters, but I think one of the main themes of Munro's work is how women are trained to be passive and that passivity makes them complicit in their own subjugation by men. I think that plays out in "Amundsen." But there are some really good characters here too. Mary in "Amundsen" is awesome, as are Ray and Isabel in "Leaving Maverley" and I really liked all the characters in "Gravel."

MikeDinosaur
11-15-2013, 10:56 PM
Here the collection is named, The Beggar Maid, and I didn't recommend it because I think it stumbles a bit after the aforementioned stories. The chain of missed connections is very, very samey, and all of the spark that Rose had been developing just seems to disappear in there for no reason I can understand. Still maybe worth reading, but I think they'd present the same problems to a Munro-agnostic as some of the stories here do. The first half of the book is very, very great, though.

I will have to read The Lives of Girls and Women soon

I agree that a lot of passive characters, but I think one of the main themes of Munro's work is how women are trained to be passive and that passivity makes them complicit in their own subjugation by men.

Absolutely. I would not say the passive characters are unrealistic. It is an intentional device, and especially when reading "Amundsen", I was always reminded of the scarcity of options at that time. The luxury represented by a cheap diner chicken dinner and a man's affection, even a horrible man's affection. Sociologically, I found that very interesting, and it did remind me of some of the unquestioned assumptions I have when I ask why x woman doesn't, say, leave an abusive husband or a shitty boyfriend.

But it is one of the longer stories so far, and aesthetically I didn't get much of a thrill out of it. I can enjoy stories about people I hate, people I love, and people about whom I feel ambivalent--I have more problem enjoying stories of people about whom I feel indifferent. And at times Vivien felt more like a placeholder for the issues she embodied than a specific person. To each their own :/

Karzac
11-16-2013, 02:42 PM
Okay, so does anybody know what the heck was going on in "Train."

Grignr
11-16-2013, 05:17 PM
Okay, so does anybody know what the heck was going on in "Train."

Roaming from town to town like the Incredible Hulk, doing good deeds for women (because he's not a piker), the protagonist inevitably is forced to leave when he can't get it up. Maybe he's gay ( he doesn't like dressed up women) but he seemed willing enough to get over being bashful with the high school girl. Maybe he just senses that any chick he hooks up with in this book will commit adultery with an actor at some point.

Droewyn
11-19-2013, 12:26 PM
I read the first story today at lunch. I think I'm going to set myself a goal of one story per day, so that I can experience each one individually and not have them run into each other in my mind.

The first story did absolutely nothing for me. Greta was too vague for me to empathize much with her, so it just read as an emotionless series of events. Maybe my apathy is a reflection of Greta's own apathy with her life and relationship with Peter, but I'm not sure that's a response you want to trigger in your audience, particularly in the first story of a collection.

Evil Dead Junkie
11-19-2013, 02:19 PM
What did y'all think of the semi autobiowhatevertheyare pieces at the end of the collection. I thought they were among the strongest work, but for some reason the muted emotion seemed a bit more affected. When she referred to her sister as "the person I loved most in the world" I couldn't help but wonder, "Gee are you sure?" Which probably wasn't the reaction she was going for.

Karzac
11-19-2013, 02:27 PM
I haven't gotten to those ones yet, but I'm looking forward to them.

MikeDinosaur
11-19-2013, 03:31 PM
I read the first story today at lunch. I think I'm going to set myself a goal of one story per day, so that I can experience each one individually and not have them run into each other in my mind.

The first story did absolutely nothing for me. Greta was too vague for me to empathize much with her, so it just read as an emotionless series of events. Maybe my apathy is a reflection of Greta's own apathy with her life and relationship with Peter, but I'm not sure that's a response you want to trigger in your audience, particularly in the first story of a collection.

So far I'd say that's by far the worst story in the book. Everything from three on (and parts of two are quite good) is a lot wittier and more engaging, with more interesting takes on the various (often horrible) people.

I also do one a day. Short story collections can suffer a lot when you barrel through them (though I envy the speed at which EDJ can get through a book... I must be the slowest reader who reads all the time. A minute a page is like a miracle to me.)

Evil Dead Junkie
11-19-2013, 04:08 PM
I also do one a day. Short story collections can suffer a lot when you barrel through them (though I envy the speed at which EDJ can get through a book... I must be the slowest reader who reads all the time. A minute a page is like a miracle to me.)

Thanks but given that my work actually encourages people to read on the job it's not as impressive as it looks.

Droewyn
11-21-2013, 12:17 PM
I read Amundsen yesterday, and Leaving Maverly today.

Amundsen made me angry, mostly because of the passivity of the pov-character. She didn't seem to want to have an affair with the doctor at all, but she didn't care enough to object. Oh, we're sleeping together? Okay. Marriage? I'm free on Tuesday, I guess. She didn't even start using his first name in her head until her wedding day!

I did like Leaving Maverly. I cared about all the characters, and was disappointed when the story ended. Leah at least seemed like she was trying to strive for something better, even if she made a bunch of bad decisions.

MikeDinosaur
11-25-2013, 02:04 PM
Roaming from town to town like the Incredible Hulk, doing good deeds for women (because he's not a piker), the protagonist inevitably is forced to leave when he can't get it up. Maybe he's gay ( he doesn't like dressed up women) but he seemed willing enough to get over being bashful with the high school girl. Maybe he just senses that any chick he hooks up with in this book will commit adultery with an actor at some point.

He might be gay, but he's at the very least heteromantic. His issue is suffering a molestation at the hands of his stepmother. Since then he can't integrate any kind of sexuality into a functional life. His issue with women who are "dressed up" isn't homosexuality, it's that they're presenting themselves as on-the-market, sexual beings. The slightest whiff of sex sends him reeling back into his personal prison.

I'm going to say some very personal stuff and it might be spoilery about "Train", so don't read if you want to go in totally fresh (and it's an amazing story, you deserve to go in totally fresh.)

There's a lot of things that can make a person waste a lot of their life, but molestation and rape seem to be almost in a category apart from the others I'm familiar with. I have two very close female friends who were molested by their fathers, and who have trusted me enough to tell me about that experience and how it affected them. I feel really grateful for that. No matter how much you educate yourself about this stuff, no matter how much you read about it, it's not the same as hearing about how it affected someone you loved--even then, the trauma remains to some degree unfathomable for someone who hasn't suffered it.

A few minutes after reading this story I just started sobbing. The way that rape and molestation are so often handed down from generation to generation like an illness, like a ticking bomb. it's usually impossible to blame someone, because the progenitor of the molestation is impossibly distant. Someone did it to them, who did it to them... Or they were mentally ill. But you still hate the rapist or the molester, no matter what happened to him or her. What they did was unfair. No child deserves to deal with it, with something so impossible.

I felt very thankful reading this. More people get help these days. One of my closest friends, maybe my closest friend, a person who showed me I could have a friend and what friendship meant and to whom I feel infinite gratitude, she is over thirty, and she's just going to therapy for the first time. I would never call her youth a waste, but it was drenched in outrage. She's hated herself for such a long time, and when the two of us look at the time she's lost, it's impossible for us not to feel frustration and powerlessness. When you hear someone tell you these things you want to make it better, which you can't, which is a powerful experience and very difficult.

But she didn't spend her whole life like this. She's getting more traction now. She has time left. And this story made me think of all the people who never do get traction from this kind of thing, who spend a lifetime trying to get away. I feel like we owe it to people like that to try to do what we can for those who need our help, and to enjoy our lives. Just to be thankful, constantly, impossibly thankful for all the chances we have. It's impossible to feel that thankfulness all the time, but we have to remember it, it has to be a fire somewhere inside of us. Feeling guilt at your privilege--what does that do? For whom! Feel privileged at your privilege! Feel lucky for your luck!!! No one can make us appreciate our lives, no one can make us get help no matter how much we need it.

So, thank you, Alice Munro.

Grignr
11-25-2013, 03:17 PM
Yes, that's a better explanation. I wasn't reading into the hints about the stepmother other than she's a bitch and that's why he would be eager to leave home. I'm introverted enough not to need any particular reason for him to be painfully shy, but rereading I see the clues that he's blocking some memory related to her.

Karzac
11-25-2013, 03:42 PM
That's a great explanation of the story, Mike. Thanks for sharing.

Karzac
11-26-2013, 01:15 PM
I finished this today. I absolutely loved the last four stories, especially "The Eye" and "Night." I love the way Munro writes from a child's perspective. She does a great job of evoking the weird leaps of logic that children make and the way life just kind of flows around them while the only pick up on the strangest details.

Droewyn
12-08-2013, 11:53 AM
I finished up today. I think "Corrie" was my favorite story. I'm not sure why; maybe because I remember big events having that same kind of distant unimportance. Why should I run for the adults? It's not like anything bad is actually going to happen, and it would ruin my sister's moment. Bad things don't happen in real life.

Until they do.

Karzac
12-09-2013, 07:41 AM
I think you're talking about "Gravel Pit". "Corrie" is the one about the heiress and the married guy having an affair and paying off the maid.

Droewyn
12-09-2013, 09:18 AM
I think you're talking about "Gravel Pit". "Corrie" is the one about the heiress and the married guy having an affair and paying off the maid.

Crap, sorry. You're right. Well, I liked that one, too. I didn't see the twist coming.