DEAR LIFE

Stories

Alice Munro

WINNER OF THE NOBEL PRIZE® IN LITERATURE 2013

A New York Times Notable Book

A Washington Post Notable Work of Fiction

A Best Book of the Year: The Atlantic, NPR, San Francisco Chronicle, Vogue, AV Club

In story after story in this brilliant new collection, Alice Munro pinpoints the moment a person is forever altered by a chance encounter, an action not taken, or a simple twist of fate. Her characters are flawed and fully human: a soldier returning from war and avoiding his fiancée,

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WINNER OF THE NOBEL PRIZE® IN LITERATURE 2013

A New York Times Notable Book

A Washington Post Notable Work of Fiction

A Best Book of the Year: The Atlantic, NPR, San Francisco Chronicle, Vogue, AV Club

In story after story in this brilliant new collection, Alice Munro pinpoints the moment a person is forever altered by a chance encounter, an action not taken, or a simple twist of fate. Her characters are flawed and fully human: a soldier returning from war and avoiding his fiancée, a wealthy woman deciding whether to confront a blackmailer, an adulterous mother and her neglected children, a guilt-ridden father, a young teacher jilted by her employer. Illumined by Munro’s unflinching insight, these lives draw us in with their quiet depth and surprise us with unexpected turns. And while most are set in her signature territory around Lake Huron, some strike even closer to home: an astonishing suite of four autobiographical tales offers an unprecedented glimpse into Munro’s own childhood. Exalted by her clarity of vision and her unparalleled gift for storytelling, Dear Life shows how strange, perilous, and extraordinary ordinary life can be.

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  • Vintage
  • Paperback
  • July 2013
  • 336 Pages
  • 9780307743725

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About Alice Munro

Alice Munro grew up in Wingham, Ontario, and attended the University of Western Ontario. She has published fourteen collections of stories as well as a novel, Lives of Girls and Women. During her distinguished career she has been the recipient of many awards and prizes, including three of Canada’s Governor General’s Literary Awards and two of its Giller Prizes, the Rea Award for the Short Story, the Lannan Literary Award, England’s W. H. Smith Book Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the Man Booker International Prize. In 2013 she was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Her stories have appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The Paris Review, Granta, and other publications, and her collections have been translated into thirteen languages. She lives in Clinton, Ontario, near Lake Huron.

Praise

“One of the great short story writers not just of our time but of any time.”The New York Times Book Review

“Wise and unforgettable. Dear Life is a wondrous gift; a reminder of why Munro’s work endures.”The Boston Globe

“Unquestionable evidence of her unfaded abilities. . . . Reading these stories will tell you something about Alice Munro’s life, but it will tell you more about Alice Munro’s mind—and, not entirely surprisingly, this proves to be even more compelling.”The New Republic

“There is no writer quite as good at illustrating the foibles of love, the confusions and frustrations of life or the inner cruelty and treachery that can be revealed in the slightest gestures and changes of tone. . . . The stories of Dear Life violate a host of creative writing rules, but they establish yet again Munro’s psychological acuity, clear-eyed acceptance of frailties and mastery of the short story form.”The Washington Post

Discussion Questions

“To Reach Japan”

  • What are Greta’s feelings toward her husband

    and her marriage as she is leaving for Toronto? What remains unspoken

    between them?

  • Discuss what Katy understands and experiences on

    this journey (see especially the description at the bottom of page 26).

    What does Katy feel about Greg, and then about Harris Bennett? Why does

    Munro end the story as she does, with Katy pulling away from her

    mother? Does the story suggest that there is an inevitable cost when a

    woman attempts to break through the limitations of her life?

  • Discuss the paragraph beginning, “It would become hard to explain, later

    on in her life, just what was okay in that time and what was not” (6),

    in light of Greta’s actions. She is a poet: How troubling is the gap

    between her identities as wife and mother, and as poet and artist?

“Pride”

  • What do Oneida and the narrator have in common? How

    are they very different? The narrator is embarrassed that she has taken

    care of him when he was ill, and assumes that he is “like a neuter to

    her” (146–147). Why does he misunderstand Oneida’s willingness to care

    for him, and her desire to live with him (148)?

  • What does the

    sight of the baby skunks evoke, at the end of the story? What light does

    the narrator’s preface (133-34) bring to your sense of what has

    happened between him and Oneida?

“Corrie”

  •  As in “Pride,” a man underestimates a woman who is attached to him:

    discuss what is different about the motivations and desires of the

    characters in the two stories.

  • How surprising is it when

    Corrie realizes that Howard has been keeping the money supposedly meant

    for Lillian’s blackmail payments? How does Corrie figure this out?  How

    do you interpret the final paragraph?

“Train”

  • After the removal of a tumor, Belle is in a strange

    state of mind and tells Jackson about what happened on the day her

    father stepped in front of an oncoming train (196-98).  She is relieved

    to have spoken about this memory.  What effect does this conversation

    have on Jackson? What makes Jackson decide not to return to the

    hospital, or to Belle’s house, which he stands to possibly inherit?

  • Do the story of Jackson’s relationship with Ileane Bishop, and what we

    learn about his stepmother’s abuse, offer an adequate explanation for

    Jackson’s transient life? What are the human costs, in this story, of

    what Belle calls “just the mistakes of humanity” (198)?

“In Sight of the Lake”

  • At what point do you understand that the

    narrator is having a dream? What strange details indicate this? What is

    dreamlike about the narrator’s efforts to find the doctor’s office?

  • In what ways does the story most accurately represent the disorientation and confusion that come with aging and memory loss?

“Dolly”

  • Franklin wrote a poem about his passionate affair with

    Dolly just before the war, and now, when he is eighty-three, Dolly

    turns up selling cosmetics. Is the narrator’s reaction overblown? 

  • What is comical or incongruous about this story? What does it say about the intersection of aging, memory, and passion?

“The Eye”

  • What aspects of the mother’s behavior are troubling to

    her daughter and make her welcome an alliance with Sadie? What is

    admirable about Sadie, especially given the time period? 

  • What is strange or uncanny about the idea that Sadie, in death, might

    have moved her eyelid? The narrator thinks, “this sight fell into

    everything I knew about Sadie and somehow, as well, into whatever

    special experience was owing to myself” (269). How do you interpret this

    moment and its meaning?

“Night”

  • The narrator attributes the strangeness of her thoughts

    that particular summer to a special status, “all inward,” conferred on

    her by learning that during a routine appendectomy, the doctor had

    removed a tumor “the size of a turkey’s egg” (275, 272).  She says, “I

    was not myself” (276). What do you make of the narrator’s efforts to

    explain the reasons for her state of mind and the worry that she could

    strangle her little sister (277)? 

  • How does the encounter

    with her father help the narrator to deal with her fear about her

    thoughts? Why is it significant to the impact of this encounter that in

    this family, emotional troubles or worries usually go unexpressed?

“Voices”

  • How is the mother’s character revealed in her

    reaction to the presence of a prostitute at the dance, as channeled

    through the daughter’s observations? Why does the narrator find the

    voices of the soldiers so intriguing and so comforting?

  • What

    does the story express about the difficult relationship between mothers

    and daughters, especially regarding the mother’s supposed role as model

    and mentor in her daughter’s adolescence?

“Dear Life”

  • The title of this story comes from the account the

    mother gives the narrator of hiding her, when she was an infant, from a

    strange and threatening woman who used to live in the family’s house

    (318). This and other salient memories combine to create a picture of an

    often difficult family life: the mother’s physical decline, the failure

    of the father’s fox farm and his later work in a foundry, the failure

    of the narrator to return home for her mother’s funeral.  Does this

    story seem to embrace the idea that a significant task for the writer is

    to extend understanding, imagination, and empathy into one’s own past,

    and to make amends for errors, cruelties, and misjudgments there?  See

    question fourth bullet below.

Questions about Dear Life

  • What is the effect of the collection as a whole, given the order, pacing, and content of the stories? What view of life does it project?
  • Compare the treatment of women by men in “Train,” “Amundsen,” “Haven,” and “Corrie.” Why do these women allow themselves to be lied to or taken advantage of? What is the dynamic that permits an uneven power relationship?
  • Compare the endings of several stories. Do they end in a state of suspension or resolution? Think about how the endings invite questioning, reflection, and interpretation.
  • Discuss the last four stories in light of Munro’s brief introduction of them as “not quite stories,” as “autobiographical in feeling, though not . . . entirely so in fact,” and as “the first and last—and the closest—things I have to say about my own life” (255). Should they be read as if they were fictional stories, or somehow differently? If you were to tell four important stories from your own life, what would they be?