The House of the Story

I used to feel for years and years and years that I was very remiss not to have written a novel and I would question people who wrote novels and try to find out how they did it and how they had got past page 30. Then, with the approach of old age, I began to just think: “Well, lucky I can do anything at all.”

Alice Munro turns seventy-eight today. The comment above was made two weeks ago, while accepting the prestigious 2009 Man Booker International Prize, awarded biennially for lifetime achievement. The fourteenth story collection of Munro’s forty-year career is due to be published at the end of August. In her interviews, Munro says that her influences include Chekhov and Eudora Welty, two with whom she is now ranked; in her introduction to Selected Stories (1996), she gives this insight on her hallmark style:

A story is not like a road to follow … it’s more like a house. You go inside and stay there for a while, wandering back and forth and settling where you like and discovering how the room and corridors relate to each other, how the world outside is altered by being viewed from these windows. And you, the visitor, the reader, are altered as well by being in this enclosed space, whether it is ample and easy or full of crooked turns, or sparsely or opulently furnished. You can go back again and again, and the house, the story, always contains more than you saw the last time. It also has a sturdy sense of itself of being built out of its own necessity, not just to shelter or beguile you.

Jean Kerr was born on this day in 1923. Munro says that she took up the short story because, as a young mother, family duties and distractions prevented novel-writing. The duties and distractions became Kerr’s specialty, the title of Please Don’t Eat the Daisies, her best-selling 1957 collection, coming from this moment in her domestic misadventures:

…And then last week I had a dinner party and told the twins and Christopher not to go in the living room, not to use the guest towels in the bathroom, and not to leave the bicycles on the front steps. However I neglected to tell them not to eat the daisies on the dining-room table. This was a serious omission, as I discovered when I came upon my centerpiece—a charming three-point arrangement of green stems.