I was intrigued by this alternative view on Alice Munro in the London Review of Books recently (http://www.lrb.co.uk/v35/n11/christian-lorentzen/poor-rose?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=3511&hq_e=el&hq_m=2528056&hq_l=13&hq_v=d9fe4d9083).

The author of the piece, Christian Lorentzen, claims to be confused by the consensus that surrounds the acclaimed short story writer Alice Munro, and how critics assert ‘her goodness, her greatness, her majorness or her bestness’ on the one hand, while at the same time encouraging us to see as virtues in her writing that which might otherwise be viewed as shortcomings:

‘So she writes only short stories, but the stories are richer than most novels.’

‘She has preternatural powers of sympathy and empathy, but she’s never sentimental.’

‘She writes about and redeems ordinary life, ordinary people…’

Lorentzen has not enjoyed reading Munro’s work:

‘Reading ten of her collections in a row has induced in me not a glow of admiration but a state of mental torpor that spread into the rest of my life.’

‘I became sad, like her characters, and like them I got sadder.’

‘I saw everyone heading towards cancer, or a case of dementia…’

I have always been drawn to stories that feel realistic and believable. True, these narratives are often ‘pathos-delivering’, as Lorentzen describes Munro’s latest collection Dear Life. But, the tales that I can relate to and connect with do not make me feel sad, or sadder, or despondent. Rather, they reassure me that out there somewhere is a story and an experience that I can connect with, on some level. Such connection makes the world a less solitary place.

There is a bigger question here too, which is why do we read. Each of us brings our own agendas and individual needs to the page, be it escapism, a need to connect, or whatever. It is good that we are all such different readers and writers.

Ultimately, my experience reading Munro’s stories has been vastly different to that of Lorentzens. Take for example the story ‘Gravel’ from Dear Life, about which Lorentzen says little, apart from the three words ‘a child drowns’, which seem heavily weighted with his negativity towards Munro’s ‘pathos-delivering tales’.

I, on the other hand, remember something quite different from the same story:

‘”The thing is to be happy,” he said. “No matter what. Just try that. You can. It gets to be easier and easier. It’s nothing to do with circumstances. You wouldn’t believe how good it is. Accept everything and tragedy disappears. Or tragedy lightens, anyway, and you’re just there, going along easy in the world.”’

CQ

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