Sunday, November 26, 2006

Munro's rich new book a pure reading experience

102. The View from Castle Rock, Alice Munro. Stories, 11-25, pp. 349

It’s difficult to describe The View from Castle Rock by Alice Munro. Unlike most of Munro’s prior works this is not a collection of short stories. Nor it is a memoir, although there are elements of both in this strong and altogether pleasing new book. What is certain is that all of the elements that make Munro such a delightful writer, and reading her such a delightful pastime, are present – her sly understanding of social manners and mores, the strong sense of time and place and the close observation of human behavior, including her own.

In the book’s foreword, Munro indicates that there are two sources for the “stories” that appear here. The first is material she assembled about her family history, which . . . “almost without my noticing what was happening, it began to shape itself, here and there, into something like stories. Some of the characters gave themselves to me in their own words, other rose out of their situations. Their words and my words, a curious re-creating of lives, in a given setting that was as truthful as our notion of the past can ever be.”

The second source was “a special set of stories” that Munro had withheld from her previous works of fiction. “I felt they didn’t belong. They were not memoirs but they were closer to my own life than the other stories I had written . . . I was doing something closer to what a memoir does – exploring a life, my own life, but not in an austere or rigorously factual way.”

Ultimately, Munro says, “these are stories.”

And they are rich, evocative stories that totally immerse the reader in the experience of reading and in the fabric of these lives. It is difficult to proclaim this Munro’s finest work because she has written so much so well for so long. Let us say then that it is a fine book, elegantly written and observed, and a pure reading experience.

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