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Cynthia Ozick said, "She is our Chekhov," and I agree. I especially admire "The Progress of Love," "Miles City, Montana," and "Family Furnishings," which is from a later collection, but almost any story of Munro's contains more than most novels. Reading a Munro story is like peeling back the layers of an onion. The story opens up, and opens up, and opens up some more.
Whether setting The Decameron in L.A. or King Lear on an Iowa farm, whether writing about horses or realtors, Smiley is among our most versatile writers: every novel of hers is different from the one before it. But my favorite is her novella The Age of Grief about a dentist whose wife has fallen in love with someone else and who bears his pain in silence. I can think of no better work of fiction about what's left unsaid.
If there's a writer whose aesthetic I'm most influenced by it's Tobias Wolff, whose work feels so unwritten it's as if the characters have taken over and the writer has gotten out of the way. I teach his short story "Say Yes" every semester and I go back again and again to This Boy's Life, his memoir about growing up on the move with his feckless mother.