ALICE McVEIGH

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Selected Stories of Alice Munro, 1968-1994

I am finding this review so hard to write!!! This is because I’m not fully where I am (in Crete, for the record, in our second home, but shortly back in the first one again). This is entirely Alice Munro’s fault!!!! She has plunked me down in small-town Canada, couple of decades ago, and I can’t see quite how I’ll ever get out again.

I cried when I reached the end of her collected stories because Vintagehad deceived me. I was at 86%, my Kindle opined, so I guessed I had maybe four more stories to scoff, like chocolates, like salty twiglets… but then there weren’t any more, just a load of drivel about the publisher Vintage.

Sod Vintage!! I need more Munro stories!! I need to gulp them down, story after story, each so perfectly balanced, so exquisitely timed, word-after-word (world-after-world).

People waffle on, on Amazon reviews especially, about books “transporting” them. In a handful of words, Munro will not only have transported you but also opened up a character, a mood, a time. Here are a couple of examples – in that order. A character. A mood. A time.

I am convinced that my father looked at me, really saw me, only once. After that, he knew what was there.

*

At first, people kept phoning, to make sure that Nita was not too depressed, not too lonely, not eating too little or drinking too much. (She had been such a diligent wine drinker that many forgot that she was now forbidden to drink at all.) She held them off, without sounding nobly grief-stricken or unnaturally cheerful or absent-minded or confused.

*

All this happened in the seventies, though in that town and other small towns like it the seventies were not as we picture them now, or as I had known them even in Vancouver. The boys’ hair was longer than it had been, but not straggling down their backs, and there didn’t seem to be an unusual amount of liberation or defiance in the air.

We’re talking an Austenesque balance, a deceptively simple economy of information, a subversively witty sleight-of-hand. In these exquisite miniatures, these irresistibly crunchy twiglets – ‘just “one” more! – we’re also receiving a mini-masterclass, where the smallest detail tells, yet nothing feels shoehorned in or falsely emphasised, and every minute glitter is amply earned.

Munro’s pacing is virtuosic – like Mozart, like Mahler – depending on what the theme requires. Some whirl you along, in others, we’re snowshoeing in the footsteps of a culture long since gone. Her dialogue is seeded with reality – but dissipates on the tongue, like frost. You almost dream each story… you certainly live it.

Is there nothing Munro can’t do? – on this evidence, no.

Many readers have suggested that every Munro story has the germ of a novel in it, and I’d agree that perhaps 1/3 of these do – but part of her genius is to choose her “two inches of ivory” and polish it till it glows. I never once felt ripped-off… except by Vintage. Instead, I feel lifted and exalted, shaken and rewarded, replete and breathless with admiration… and still in small-town Canada, perhaps in the sixties, in the eighties, which is fizzing with such life.

ALICE McVEIGH

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