Alice Munro is hardly the typical writer of love stories. Throughout her more than fifty-year career, she has never pandered to an audience used to happy endings and perfect relationships. Instead, she writes with a maturity and honesty that reveals the true nature of love in all its heartbreaking complexity.
Even though Alice Munro is known for her love stories, don't mistake her for just another romance writer. Munro never romanticizes love, but rather presents it in all of its frustrating complexity. She does not feel impelled to tack happy endings onto her tales of heartbreak and healing. As a result, Munro's wholly credible love stories have marked her as a true original who spins stories that are as honest as they are dramatic.
Alice Munro got her start in writing as a teenager in Ontario, and published her first story while attending Western Ontario University in 1950. Her first book, a collection of short stories titled Dance of the Happy Shades, would not be published until 1968, but when it arrived, Munro rapidly established herself as a unique voice in contemporary literature. Over the course of fifteen short stories, Munro displayed a firmly focused vision, detailing the loves and life-altering moments of the inhabitants of rural Ontario. Munro takes a gradual, methodical approach to unraveling her stories, often developing a character's perspective through several paragraphs, only to demolish it with a single, biting sentence. Yet she also explores those heartbreaking delusions of her characters with humanity, undercutting the bitterness with genuine compassion.
Munro was instantly recognized for her debut collection of stories, winning the prestigious Governor General's Award in Canada. Monroe would then spend the majority of her career writing short stories rather than novels. "I want to tell a story, in the old-fashioned way -- what happens to somebody -- but I want that 'what happens' to be delivered with quite a bit of interruption, turnarounds, and strangeness," she explained to Random House.com. "I want the reader to feel something is astonishing -- not the 'what happens' but the way everything happens. These long short story fictions do that best, for me." Munro would only write one novel, Lives of Girls and Women, a coming-of-age tale about a young girl named Del Jordan, which is actually structured more like a collection of short stories than a typical novel. Throughout the rest of her work, she would continue to explore themes of love and the way memories shape one's life in short story collections such as Friend of My Youth, Open Secrets, and the award-winning The Love of a Good Woman, and her most recent, Runaway.
Because her stories are so unencumbered by clichés and speak with such clarity and truthfulness, it is often assumed that Munro's work is largely autobiographical. The fact that she chooses to set so many of her tales in her hometown only fuel these assumptions further. However, Munro says that very little of her material is based on her own life, and takes a more creative approach to inventing her finely developed characters. "Suppose you have -- in memory -- a young woman stepping off a train in an outfit so elegant her family is compelled to take her down a peg (as happened to me once)," she explains, "and it somehow becomes a wife who's been recovering from a mental breakdown, met by her husband and his mother and the mother's nurse whom the husband doesn't yet know he's in love with. How did that happen? I don't know."
As Munro grows older, her themes are turning more and more toward illness and death, yet she continues to display a startling vitality and youthfulness in her writing. A writer with a long and celebrated career, Alice Munro's work is just as compelling, honest, and insightful as ever.
Good To Know
Munro dropped out of college in 1951 to marry fellow student James Munro. The couple opened a bookstore in Victoria, had three children, and divorced in 1972. Munro continues to live in Canada with her second husband, geographer Gerald Fremlin.
Munro wrote on a typewriter for a good part of her career, calling herself a "late convert to every technological offering" in a publisher's interview. "I still don't own a microwave oven," she says.