‘Dear Life’ by Alice Munro

Dear Life by Alice Munro, 2011

The magic trick:

Revealing a surprising coincidence late in the story, but then not pursuing it for maximum drama

Of the four memoir stories in the Dear Life collection, the title track is the one that most recalls Munro’s fiction work. It makes a remarkable connection between worlds, when a newspaper article later in Alice’s life sheds new light on an old story from her childhood that her mother used to tell about a harrowing encounter with a neighbor. That kind of surprise linkage is classic Munro in the short story form. Here, however, it’s different.

Whereas one of her short stories would likely mine that coincidence for maximum symbolic value and perhaps even a surprising plot twist, here, in this staunchly autobiographical sketch, the coincidence is noted but then left to sit. It’s not the paradigm shift it seems when first announced. It’s simply an odd connection that adds a new detail to the childhood story but doesn’t fundamentally change anything. As such, of course, it’s more realistic. It does make you appreciate the value of fiction, though. And that’s quite a trick on Munro’s part.

The selection:

I do not mean to imply that my mother spoke of this often. It was not part of the repertoire that I got to know and, for the most part, found interesting. Her struggle to get to high school. The school where she taught, in Alberta, and where the children arrived on horseback. The friends she had at normal school, the innocent tricks that were played.

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