Alice Munro wins the Nobel Prize in Literature! Brilliant. The tag line on the Nobel website is 'master of the contemporary short story'. Canadians have been known to call her their Chekhov.
A short article here articulates the beauty of this win - the way we struggle to say exactly what it is that makes Alice Munro so great and how she's credited with doing the 'woman writer thing' exceptionally well: making the small things of life some how big with the attention she pays - but then the article lands on 'some kind of alchemy of form and content' as the only way of understanding Munro's greatness, before throwing up its hands and saying - in effect - just read her! Do please, yes.
I tried to discuss Munro's genius in a blog post five years ago and talked about the time Munro spent looking out of windows. Yes, not looking inside at her own life and her own angst but outside, at people passing by, and what they do. In her words,
I want the reader to feel something is astonishing. Not the 'what happens', but the way everything happens.How she wrote short stories because she was a wife and mother and busy thinking always about others needs, so there was time for little recreation except looking through windows, and writing short fiction. Her first collection of stories was published in 1968 when she was 37. I talked in the blog post about reading one of Munro's stories in her collection Runaway while I was working hard on my 2007 novel The Blue - and how it showed me 'suddenly and simply how to write about love in a way that was unsentimental, visceral, raw, astonishing'. And I quoted Munro...
I want the reader to feel something is astonishing. Not the 'what happens,' but the way everything happens.... And then I found a perspicacious review in the International Herald Tribune:
The distinctions that Munro has been elaborating on for years along the prairies, small towns, and modest lives of Canada operate upon the heart. They are particle metaphysics, and their collisions release an energy that all but mutates the reader's mental and emotional genes.
Afterward, we glow faintly in the dark.
Heart is a word dangerously subject to sentimental abuse; even worse is heartstrings. Useful, though, in attempting to suggest the nature of Munro's art. She moves on a fine workaday surface; then, unsignaled, reaches deep with delicate and knowing fingers to tug the filament of a brainily targeted emotion. Her unremarkable landscapes are dotted with rabbit holes; falling in, we grow, we shrink, we are at a loss, and then unexpectedly found.
Congratulations Alice Munro. And Canada (love that country and its writers). Thanks Bookman Beattie who shared the news with me first thing this morning.