I don't think about a particular form, I think more about fiction, let's say a chunk of fiction. What do I want to do? 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. I want the reader to feel something is astonishing-- not the 'what happens' but the way everything happens.
The Orange Walk was the most splendid of all the parades. King Billy at the head of it rode a horse as near pure white as could be found, and the Black Knights at the rear, the noblest rank of Orangemen-- usually thin, and poor, and proud and fanatical old farmers-- rode dark horses and wore the ancient father-to-son top hats and swallow-tail coats. The banners were all gorgeous silks and embroideries, blue and gold, orange and white, scenes of Protestant triumph, lilies and open Bibles, mottoes of godliness and honor and flaming bigotry. The ladies came beneath their sunshades, Orangemen's wives and daughters all wearing white for purity. Then the bands, the fifes and drums, and gifted step-dancers performing on a clean haywagon as a movable stage.
Also, there came Milton Homer. He could show up anywhere in the parade and he varied his place in it from time to time, stepping out behind King Billy or the Black Knights or the step-dancers or the shy orange-sashed children who carried the banners. Behind the Black Knights he would pull a dour face, and hold his head as if a top hat was riding on it; behind the ladies he wiggled his hips and diddled an imaginary sunshade. He was a mimic of ferocious gifts and terrible energy. He could take the step-dancers' tidy show and turn it into an idiot's prance, and still keep the beat.
"Who Do You Think You Are?" (256-7).
She has been compared to Anton Chekhov and her work has been translated into 13 languages. Some readers have labelled her a "women's writer," a term guaranteed to deter many readers of both sexes. Apart from being patronizing and sexist, the label is inaccurate. Munro's writing focuses on female characters, but she writes about the human condition, and her ability to transform the most ordinary of situations into something memorable places her among the best writers of the twentieth century.
Born Alice Laidlaw in 1931 to a farming family, she grew up during the Great Depression and World War II in and around Wingham, Ontario. She says of her family,
We lived outside the whole social structure because we didn't live in the town and we didn't live in the country. We lived in this kind of little ghetto where all the bootleggers and prostitutes and hangers-on lived. Those were the people I knew. It was a community of outcasts. I had that feeling about myself. (quoted in Tautsky)
She has often said that she interacted with this world in a series of disguises. Her characters often do likewise, most notably the actress Rose of Who Do You Think You Are?
Munro attended the University of Western Ontario from 1949-1950; she published her first story, "The Dimensions of a Shadow," while a student there. She married in 1951, leaving school before graduating and moving with her husband to Victoria, British Columbia. She and her husband had three daughters. They were divorced in 1972. A couple of Munro's characters have past marriages to pompous men from British Columbia; I'm sure that's just a coincidence. She married a second time in 1976 to a geographer, Gerald Fremlin; they keep their principal residence in Clinton, Ontario.
Her output from her twenties and thirties would eventually be compiled in Dance of the Happy Shades, which would win Munro the first of her three Governor-General Awards, Canada's highest literary honour. The book includes "The Office," based on an incident from her early married life, and three of her most-reprinted tales, "Day of the Butterfly," "An Ounce of Cure," and "Boys and Girls." Many a Canadian student has dismissed her because of this last story, which Munro has criticized for its didacticism. However, as it has an obvious theme and a short film adaptation, it has become the Munro story which high school English teachers most often foist upon their charges. It's not her best work and, more importantly, it's atypical.
In addition to her three Governer-General Awards, she has won the Giller Prize, the Lannan Literary Award, the W.H. Smith Award, the Marian Engel Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Canada Council Prize, and the International Booker Prize. Her fiction has appeared in a number of magazines, including The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, and The Paris Review.
Most of her works are short-story collections, though Lives of Girls and Women and Who Do You Think You Are? (also titled The Beggar Maid) hover between collection and novel. The separate, self-contained stories in both books function as chapters of a larger storyline. Novelist John Gardner said he could not decide how to classify the latter work, concluding only that "whatever it is, it's wonderful" (Art and Culture). The View From Castle Rock, an autobiographical work which tells the story of her ancestors and her own life, also resembles a complete novel.
Her writing would be described as realistic fiction. Open Secrets, however, with its focus on unsolved mysteries and quirky turns of fate, took Murno into, at least, the borders of The Twilight Zone.
What constantly astounds me about Munro is her ability to evoke entires lives, times, and places in deceptively easy prose. Whole worlds exist in her small towns. I recognize the streets her characters walk and the parties on the edges of which they linger.
Her published books to date include:
Dance of the Happy Shades (1968)
Lives of Girls and Women (1971)
Something I've Been Meaning to Tell You (1974)
Who Do You Think You Are? aka The Beggar Maid (1978)
The Moons of Jupiter (1983)
The Progress of Love (1986)
Friend of My Youth (1990)
Open Secrets (1994)
Selected Stories (1996)
The Love of a Good Woman (1998)
Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage (2001)
The View From Castle Rock (2006)
Too Much Happiness (2009)
"Alice Munro." Art and Culture. http://www.artandculture.com/arts/artist?artistId=770
Thomas Tautsky. "Alice Munro: a Biocritical Essay." The Canadian Literary Archives. (1986). http://www.ucalgary.ca/library/SpecColl/munrobioc.htm
"Alice Munro." Fiction Authors in Depth. http://www.bedfordstmartins.com/literature/bedlit/authors_depth/munro.htm
The Alice Munro Page. http://members.aol.com/MunroAlice/
"A Conversation with Alice Munro." http://www.randomhouse.com/vintage/read/goodwoman/munro.html