Archive for the ‘Munro, Alice (4)’ Category

Alice Munro wins Nobel Prize

October 10, 2013

aaalicemunroAlice Munro today was named the first-ever Canadian winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, so we’ll pause to engage in a little celebrating here.

Her name has come up every fall in recent years (and the bookies had her as second favorite this year) but the announcement is still a bit of a surprise. The Nobel jury has tended to favor writers who have a “political” side to their fiction — “political” is one adjective that would not apply to Alice’s work.

What she is is a decent, generous human being with an exceptional talent for both observation and the ability to capture the results of that observation in words. Every one of her stories is like a carefully sculpted, three dimensional word picture. When considered as a body of work, they capture an entire community — there is a reason why southwestern Ontario is known as Munro country.

She is 82 now and has announced that Dear Life, the collection released late last year, would be her last. If you are looking for it on a Giller list, incidentally, you won’t find it — it is a sign of Munro’s humility that after winning the Prize twice she asked her publishers to stop submitting her books for consideration.

I have read all of Alice’s collections, but most of that reading took place before I started blogging here. You will find reviews of three here: The View From Castle Rock, the autobiographical collection which traces her own family history starting in Scotland; Too Much Happiness, her 2009 collection; and the previously mentioned Dear Life.

And I have another review schedule to close out 2013 — I will be re-reading her first collection, Dance of the Happy Shades, as the concluding book in my 2013 project of revisiting 12 Canadian authors who influenced me. I first read it when it was published in 1968 and I was 20 years old. Today’s Nobel announcement underlined that I have been reading, enjoying and appreciating Alice Munro’s work for most of my adult life — I have every intention of revisiting some of her other early collections as well.

Alice Munro is a deserving winner — and I am sure that many Canadian readers are as proud as I am that her work has received the international recognition that the Nobel Prize represents.


Dear Life, by Alice Munro

January 24, 2013

Review copy courtesy McClelland and Stewart

Review copy courtesy McClelland and Stewart

Dear Life is the fourteenth original short story collection from 81-year-old Alice Munro (and that total doesn’t include five other compilation volumes that have appeared along the way), so I am virtually certain that you have heard of her. The first, Dance of the Happy Shades, was published in 1968 — every few years since, as regular as clockwork, a new volume has appeared. The awards have been almost as regular — three Governor-Generals (1968, 1978, 1986); two Gillers (1998, 2004); and the Man Booker International Prize (2009) are just the most prestigious in what is a long list.

The dates of those awards are proof positive that there has been a consistency of quality in that extensive publishing history. And, truth be told, there has been a certain consistency of tone as well; one captured for me more than a decade back by a fellow Shadow Giller juror (herself a well-known Canadian novelist and critic whose identity I won’t reveal since I haven’t asked her permission to repeat it). It was 1998, we were considering The Love of a Good Woman (which did end up winning that year’s Real Giller, although not the Shadow) and my fellow juror said “every time I read an Alice Munro story, it is like looking at the world through sepia-toned glasses”. That metaphor works both ways. If you like Munro, those sepia-toned glasses serve to soften the harsh, often cruel, twists and realism that lie beneath the surface of every Munro story. And if you don’t like Munro generally, or even a particular story, it also works — if I can mix the metaphor, sometimes there seems to be too much treacle in the tart to make it worth the effort to appreciate the savory nuggets that are embedded in the custard.

Dear Life continues to show that consistency, in both quality and approach, but, like other recent Munro volumes, it is complemented by a surprise. In her last collection, Too Much Happiness, for example, the title story departs Munro country and moves into Dostoevsky terrority. Dear Life has a similar departure from the norm for the dedicated Munro reader: the volume contains 14 stories but the author (and her longtime editor, the legendary Douglas Gibson) have deliberately separated it into two parts.

All Munro stories seem to spring from some observation made in her real life — the first ten in this book start with those kind of observations and then soar off into fiction. The last four pieces reverse the process: an introductory note (ominously titled “Finale”) says they are:

…not quite stories. They form a separate unit, one that is autobiographical in feeling, though not, sometimes, entirely so in fact. I believe they are the first and last — and the closest — things I have to say about my own life.

I’ll get to those last four memory pieces later, but let’s look at an example of the “conventional” stories first (I put those quotes in because Munro is exceptional enough that no story is really “conventional”.)

Dear Life’s opening story, “To Reach Japan”, illustrates many of the traits of a Munro story and I would like to consider them in some detail. We meet Greta and her young daughter Katy as they board a train in Vancouver, destined for a month in Toronto. Husband and father Peter, an engineer who is headed north on an assignment that has provided the excuse for the trip, is bidding them goodbye from the platform, “uneasy that the train should start to move” — note how the author uses just a phrase to introduce uncertainty into an otherwise mundane scene.

Peter was born in Soviet Czechoslovakia — his mother had carried him to the West as a baby. When Greta hears the story, she says that kind usually ends with the baby crying and then being strangled so the whole escaping party would not be endangered. Peter said his mother would never have done that — but this excerpt illustrates how Munro has her own way of creating tension inside seemingly routine history:

What she did do was get to British Columbia, where she improved her English and got a job teaching what was then called Business Practice to high school students. She brought up Peter on her own and sent him to university, and now he was an engineer. When she came to their apartment, and later to their house, she always sat in the front room, never coming into the kitchen unless Greta invited her. That was her way. She carried not noticing to an extreme. Not noticing, not intruding, not suggesting, though in every single household skill or art she left her daughter-in-law far behind.

That will be Peter’s mother’s last appearance in the story — but it tells us a lot about Greta. As well, while the “action” in Munro stories takes place on the personal level, the author never neglects to supply a much broader context. In this story, that comes quickly when (with the train still in the station) we learn that Greta, apparently “just” an ordinary mother and housewife, is also a poet, a “peculiarity” that she has not revealed to her own relatives or friends:

It would become hard to explain, later on in her life, just what was okay in that time and what was not. You might say, well, feminism was not. But then you would have to explain that feminism was not even a word people used. Then you would get all tied up saying that having any serious idea, let alone ambition, or maybe even reading a real book, could be seen as suspect, having something to do with your child’s getting pneumonia, and a political remark at an office party might have cost your husband his promotion. It was a woman’s shooting off her mouth that did it.

In fact, it was Greta’s role as a poet– coupled with her inate insecurity — that sowed the seeds for this train trip. A few years earlier she had been invited to a party for the editor of a Toronto-based magazine that had published two of her poems. She feels out of place from the start and drinks far too many Pimm’s No. 1 and pink grapefruit juice far too quickly — she ended up being rescued and driven home by a visiting journalist from Toronto, who thinks about kissing her before dropping her off. This train trip east is her own hesitant way of seeing whether she can again make contact with him.

All that takes place in the first ten pages of a 28-page story. Munro stories almost always take unexpected turns — in this one it comes early in the train journey when Greta and Katy are joined by a couple of actors in the dome car of the train. Without giving too much away, that interior story-in-a-story will end with Greta desparately searching for a missing Katy on the train and discovering her huddled on those moving plates at the join between two cars. And, also true to Munro form, we will not discover until the final few sentences whether the obscure note that Greta has sent the Toronto journalist has produced results. (A lot of Munro stories end with a separated few sentences or paragraphs that invite the reader to soldier on and build their own continuing story.)

I feel somewhat guilty only addressing one of the 10 conventional stories in this review, but felt that looking at one in depth (sort of a “how-to” in terms of how KfC reads Munro stories) was the best approach. My fellow Shadow Giller juror, Trevor at the Mookse and the Gripes, faced a similar challenge with this collection and responded by doing separate posts on each story — you can find links to them here if you want to explore what each is about.

Which brings us to the four “not quite stories”, titled “The Eye”, “Night”, “Voices” and “Dear Life”. If all Munro stories are inspired by a memory, in these four pieces memory has proved stronger than imagination. For me, they offer intriguing sketches of how a story begins to take shape in the author’s mind. All of them involve innocent, but disturbing, childhood experiences that remain lodged in the author’s memory. Now that she is in the final stages of a long and rewarding life (and I don’t mean to imply that it will be ending soon), the reality of what they meant has acquired an even sharper focus, so strong that they can’t be turned into fiction. I was reminded when reading them of similar persistent memories that are developed in the childhood section of Tony Judt’s The Memory Chalet, although Judt was only too painfully aware that his life was only months from ending.

If you aren’t familiar with Alice Munro’s work, I certainly would not recommend starting with those recollections — if you are, I suspect you will find them as intriguing as I did, although as “literary” pieces they don’t quite measure up to her normal standard. In fact, if you haven’t read Munro, I would not suggest starting with this volume — go back to the start with either Dance of the Happy Shades (1968) or Lives of Girls and Women (1971), because I am sure you will want to read more and it is wise to join the writer at the start of her creative journey. For those of us who have been reading her throughout a career that is approaching the half-century mark, Dear Life is proof positive that an extraordinary story-teller continues to produce work of outstanding quality, sepia-toned though some of it might be.

Too Much Happiness, by Alice Munro

August 25, 2009

Review copy from

Review copy from

When Alice Munro’s previous original collection appeared (The View From Castle Rock, reviewed here), there was speculation that the book would be the last new work from Canada’s literary icon, now in her late 70s — even the dust cover of this new volume acknowledges she was “flirting with the idea of retirement”. She has abandoned that idea, at least for one more book, and readers are better off for it.

For other Canadian authors, the news that Munro would have a new book out this fall was anything but good — she would move to the front of the queue for all of Canada’s 2009 literary awards. Munro, ever the decent person, has taken care of that last concern however, at least as far as the Giller Prize is concerned. A two-time Giller winner, she qualified for submission automatically but she has asked that her novel not be considered “to make room for younger authors” (that quote from a story written by Douglas Gibson, her publisher of 30 years and himself an icon in Canadian fiction history). Whatever you might think of her writing, this is a writer who exemplifies class from top to bottom.

And then there is her sense of self-deprecating humor. I had spotted this reference in “Fiction”, only to find that McClelland and Stewart in the Canadian edition chose to highlight it on the back cover:

A collection of short stories, not a novel. This in itself is a disappointment. It seems to diminish the book’s authority, making the author seem like somebody who is just hanging on to the gates of Literature, rather than safely settled inside.

You don’t have to be an avid participant in book forums or a reader of reviews to know that many readers wish that Alice Munro wrote more novels, because they get more attention and win more prizes, although Munro did win this year’s Man Booker International Prize. This paragraph would seem to indicate that she is fully aware of what she does well and is fully comfortable with it. Me too.

There are 10 stories in this collection and nine of them (the title story is the exception and I promise I will get to it) represent an overview of vintage Munro work. Many are set in “Munro” country (rural Ontario west of London); some on the West Coast, where she spends half the year. The central characters range from the young to those emerging from youth, the middle-aged, or those approaching old-age — Munro has a way of using, rather than portraying, age to develop her point. Other typical characteristics that are at play in this collection:

1. Each of these stories carries the complexity that would make it not just a good novella, but a novel. One of the things that Alice Munro is best at is compressing the elements of a good novel into 30 pages of tightly-written prose.
2. A dark side looms in every story — in fact, much of what Munro is about is peeling back the layers of the onion to expose the dark centre that is her central premise.
3. The best stories also feature another common Munro characteristic, one that she shares with authors like Ian MacEwan at his best. While 80 per cent of the story is told in scrupulous realistic fashion, there is the other 20 per cent — other-worldly, absurd, surrealistic. It is almost as if the author says “trust me and accept these unbelievable oddities — I’ll deliver before the story is done.” She almost always does.

Let me focus on one story, “Wenlock Edge”, in some detail to draw out some of Munro’s strengths. The title comes from an A.E. Housman poem; the central character is a young woman who is starting university, studying English and Philosophy, in London, Ontario:

My mother had a bachelor cousin who used to visit us on the farm once a summer. He brought along his mother, Aunt Nell Botts. His name was Ernie Botts. He was a tall, florid man with a good-natured expression, a big square face, and fair curly hair springing straight up from his forehead. His hands, his fingernails, were as clean as soap, and his hips were a little plump. My name for him — when he was not around — was Earnest Bottom. I had a mean tongue.

But I believe I meant no harm. Hardly any harm. After Aunt Nell Botts died he did not come anymore but sent a Christmas card.

That innocent, but foreboding, introduction continues as the heroine starts university — Ernie takes her to dinner Sunday evenings at the Old Chelsea (they don’t serve alcohol on Sundays), where he has roast beef and she indulges in vol au vent or duck a l’orange, whatever is most expensive. He is young enough that she hopes people will think he is her boyfriend not her father, although “I was pretty sure his idea of serious reading would be the Condensed Books of the Reader’s Digest”. (Does that reference ever bring back memories for an aging generation of North American readers, including this one — another Munro speciality.)

The plot acquires tension when Nina moves in as the central character’s roommate. Nina is older (22), an unwed mother and, perhaps most important, possessed of what we would now call a “sugar daddy”, one Mr. Purvis, who not only supports her but also keeps her under observation. My apologies for the length of the following quote but it illustrates the way that Munro peels off onion skins (to explain, Mrs. Winner is the tail that Purvis hires to keep Nina under surveillance):

Just to give Mrs. Winner some practice, as Nina said, we left the house one evening and took a bus to the city library. From the bus window we watched the long black car having to slow and dawdle at every bus stop, then speed up and stay with us. We had to walk a block to the library, and Mrs. Winner passed us and parked beyond the front entrance, and watched us — we believed — in her rear-view mirror.

I wanted to see if I could check out a copy of The Scarlet Letter which was required for one of my courses. I could not afford to buy one, and the copies from the college library were all out. Also I had an idea of getting a book out for Nina — the sort of book that showed simplified charts of history.

Nina had bought the textbooks for the courses she was auditing. She had bought textbooks and pens — the best fountain pens of that time — in matching colours. Red for Middle-American Pre-Colombian Civilizations, blue for the Romantic Poets, green for Victorian and Georgian English Novelists, yellow for Fairy Tales from Lang to Anderson. She went to every lecture, sitting in the back row because she thought that was the proper place for her. She spoke as if she enjoyed walking through the Arts building with the throng of other students, finding her seat, opening her textbook at the page specified, taking out her pen. But her notebooks remained empty.

Nina may not know her university or her history, but she knows her life skills. As the rest of “Wenlock Edge” unfolds, our heroine slides deeper and deeper into an experience that she doesn’t really understand. The story is a prime example of Munro at her best. (Like many of the other stories in this book, it is available at the New Yorker website — here — I have not tried to trace them all, but if any single one interests you it is worth a search. Here's a link to what a search of the New Yorker for ‘Alice Munro’ produces.)

Just a hint at a few other wonderful examples from this book (and these aren’t really spoilers but it is almost impossible to describe a Munro story without giving something away):

— “Fiction” — a hippie-like living arrangement in British Columbia produces a marriage breakdown and evokes a flood of memories many years later when a short story collection appears.
— “Free Radicals” — the death of a husband provokes reminiscent thoughts, which are interrupted by a home invasion, that ends up heightening the memories (I warned you about Munro and the surreal).
— “Some Women” — in some ways, a Munro speciality, as an aging woman remembers a summer of her childhood and her first job, “sitting” a dying cancer patient who himself is the centre of a tug-of-war between his wife, his mother and a masseuse. Munro at her traditional best, this one.
— “Face” –what if you were born with a hideous birthmark on half your face — and the person who liked you best wanted to imitate it?

And so we come to the title story, “Too Much Happiness”, which is not a typical Munro story by any means. In her Acknowledgements, she says:

I discovered Sophia Kovalevsky while searching for something else in the Britannica one day. The combination of novelist and mathematician immediately caught my interest, and I began to read everything about her I could find.

Let’s set aside the charming notion that anyone, let alone Alice Munro, still seriously consults Britannica. One of the best things about her is that she continually reminds us of our past and it is little, offhand references like this (in the Acknowledgements, of all places) that explode those time grenades.

If Fyodor Dostoevsky was a feminist, this is a story he would have written (he is in the story). Sophia is a mathematician/novelist who has managed to get out of Russia to pursue her studies through a “White Marriage”. In true Russian fashion, the story moves back and forth through various time frames, always focused on Sophia’s struggle to realize her talents and find a life — those two objectives are obviously in conflict. It is not a typical Munro story but she does bring her typical talents to the table. We have a couple of husbands, conflict with authorities, conflict with her inner self. If in fact this is the last story that she will publish (I highly doubt that), it indicates that right until the end Alice Munro was pushing the envelope, and with considerable success. If you don’t know Munro, don’t start with this story — if you know her and like her as I do, it is a most interesting achievement.

And as much as you might like those New Yorker versions of her stories, please buy this book. Alice Munro is not perfect, but she is as close to it as any author writing today.

The View from Castle Rock, by Alice Munro

June 2, 2009

munroCynthia Ozick has called her “our Chekhov”.

Margaret Atwood, in the introduction to Carried Away (2006), an Everyman’s Library collection of 17 of her stories, describes her reputation as “international literary sainthood”.

Jonathan Franzen, in the opening paragraph of his review of Runaway (2004), says: “Alice Munro has a strong claim to being the best fiction writer now working in North America, but outside of Canada, where her books are No. 1 best sellers, she has never had a large readership.”

With those kind of assessments, from that diverse a group of authors, I think it is probably fair to conclude that the international writing community was not surprised last week when Alice Munro won the 2009 Man Booker International Prize.

And yet….

There is that ominous ending to Franzen’s lede: “…outside of Canada…she has never had a large readership.” The reaction last week from the (very well-read) international blogging community tends to confirm that. Max at Pechorin’s Journal admitted he had never heard of her. Candy Schultz, who lives literally just down the road from Alice Munro Country (as it is known), thought she was American. John Self at The Asylum remembers reading The Progress of Love some 13 years ago, but nothing since. As far as I can tell, neither dovegreyreader nor Lizzy Siddal — two passionate advocates of Canadian fiction — has ever reviewed an Alice Munro book (dgr and Lizzy: please correct me if I am wrong on that front). I am not being critical of any of those readers; that seems a fair survey of where things are at as far as reading Munro is concerned.

So as someone who professes to blog about Canadian fiction, it behooves me to address the issue. I have been reading Alice Munro for more than 40 years (her first book, Dance of the Happy Shades, was published in 1968 and I do remember it) so I can confirm the first statement in Franzen’s review. It is also accurate to say that Munro not only sells in Canada, she is revered, to slightly alter Atwood’s metaphor. She has won three Governor-General awards and two Giller Prizes (all for different books). The volume under review here would almost certainly have been Giller number three except that Munro was on the jury that year and her book could not be considered — confirming that she is not only an exceptional writer, she is an exceptional person.

I’ve chosen Munro’s latest book (her twelfth, not counting collections), The View from Castle Rock (2006), because it is both atypical and typical of her work — if you have not read her, it is not a bad place to start exactly because of that dichotomy.

Before going any further, let me go back to Franzen's excellent review because he does contemplate reasons why she is not read as widely as he believes she should be. The first two are particularly relevant:

1. Munro’s work is all about storytelling pleasure. The problem here being that many buyers of serious fiction seem rather ardently to prefer lyrical, tremblingly earnest, faux-literary stuff.

2. As long as you’re reading Munro, you’re failing to multitask by absorbing civics lessons or historical data. Her subject is people. People people people. If you read fiction about some enriching subject like Renaissance art or an important chapter in our nation’s history, you can be assured of feeling productive. But if the story is set in the modern world, and if the characters’ concerns are familiar to you, and if you become so involved with a book that you can’t put it down at bedtime, there exists a risk that you’re merely being entertained.

The first half of the book is atypical because it does explore a broader history than a character’s everyday life. As the author says in a brief forward “about ten or twelve years ago I began to take more than a random interest in the history of one side of my family, whose name was Laidlaw.” She traced them back to late 18th century Scotland, discovered a writer (either published or a letter writer) in each generation since. “I put all this material together over the years, and almost without my noticing what was happening, it began to shape itself, here and there, into somthing like stories.” Munro is in Geoff Dyer territory here, on that border between sometimes non-fiction and sometimes fiction (she is like Dyer in no other way, however). It is a particularly attractive feature of this collection.

The family history is rooted in the Ettrick Valley on the sprine of Scotland: “This parish possesses no advantages” is the way the description of it began in the Statistcal Account of Scotland, 1799. The family are shepherds (Munro’s father still keeps a flock when we last see him centuries and a continent later) struggling to get by. The longest story of the book — the title story — begins at Castle Rock in Edinburgh with an ancestor’s dream of moving to America (that description includes Canada), which he finally undertakes with most of his adult family some decades later when he is in his sixties.

The other three stories of Part One — “Illinois”, “The Wilds of Morris Township” and “Working for a Living” — are as good an account as you will find anywhere of what it was like to be a settler in Ontario or the mid-west of the United States in the early 1880s. They are interesting from that point of view but they are even more important for understanding what it was that produced Alice Munro, the author that we know today.

Consider this example from “Working for a Living”. Alice’s somewhat agressive mother is off at a resort selling fox fur stoles and wraps made from skins that her father has raised and her grandmother is helping out at home:

When we sat looking out at this view my father rolled and smoked a cigarette, and he and my grandmother talked about the old days on the farm, their old neighbors and funny things — that is, both strange and comical things — that had happened. My mother’s absence brought a sort of peace — not only between them, but for all of us. Some alert and striving note was removed. An edge of ambition, self-regard, perhaps discontent, absent. At the time, I did not know exactly what it was that was missing. I did not know either what a deprivation, rather than a relief, it would be for me, if that was gone for good.

That is vintage Munro, as is the following excerpt — a conversation reported by her father from a smoke break at the Foundry where he works as night watchman:

One night somebody asked, when is the best time in a man’s life?

Some said, it’s when you are a kid and can fool around all the time and go down to the river in the summer and play hockey on the road in the winter and that’s all you think about, fooling around and having a good time.

Or when you’re first married if you’re fond of your wife and a bit later, too, when the children are just little and running around and haven’t shown any bad characteristics yet.

My father spoke up and said, “Now, I think maybe now.”

They asked him why.

He said because you weren’t old yet, with one thing or another collapsing on you, but old enough that you could see that a lot of things you might have wanted out of life you would never get. It was hard to explain how you could be happy in such a situation, but sometimes he thought you were.

The six stories of Part Two tell the story of Alice growing up and this is where Munro returns to that typical style that Franzen describes — except that in this book she is talking about her own growing up, not that of some created character. They are all set in Clinton (where she and her second husband live to this day), the heart of Alice Munro Country in southwestern Ontario, just inland from the eastern shore of Lake Huron and about 60 miles north of the U.S. border at Sarnia.

“Fathers” explores the different kinds of male parent that she runs into as a child; not just her own, but a brute who beats his children and another, rather sissified (he used to be a window-dresser in a Chicago department store) version who serves dinner to Alice and her friend:

I expected the sweetbreads to be like their name — some sort of bun with jam or brown sugar, but couldn’t see why that would come with potatoes. What arrived however, were small pads of meat wrapped in crisp bacon, and little potatoes with their skins on, that had been rolled in hot butter and crisped in the pan. Also carrots cut in thin sticks and having a slightly candied flavor. The carrots I could have done without, but I had never tasted potatoes so delicious or meat so tender. All I wished was for Mr. Wainwright to stay in the kitchen instead of hovering around us pouring out lemonade and asking if everything was to our liking.

Dessert was another wonder — a satin vanilla pudding with a sort of lid on it of golden-brown baked sugar. Tiny cakes to go with it, iced on all sides with a very dark, rich chocolate.

It doesn’t take very many excerpts to show why other writers respect Munro.

In “Lying Under the Apple Tree”, young Alice has her first kiss and, quickly after, first heartbreak. In “Hired Girl” she heads north to an island in Georgian Bay for her first summer job. In “The Ticket”, she prepares for her first marriage (it ended in divorce in 1972) and discovers quite a bit of family history. In “Home” she comes face-to-face with her father’s mortality; in “What Do You Want to Know For?” she contemplates her own.

None of that is earth-shaking stuff — Munro does not do earth-shaking. Everything in it, however, is something that every one of us experiences as we go through life. And great writer that she is, Munro has a way of exploring that in such meticulous detail that a reader — even an aging male like myself — can’t help but be touched.

I will confess that while I like and read Munro, I don’t revere her — I can’t help but be reminded of an author friend’s assessment that “every story is another view of boring southwestern Ontario through sepia-coloured glasses”. That isn’t fair but there are grains of truth in it. As a final confession, I’ll admit that when I picked up The View from Castle Rock for a reread after three years, a glance at the titles of each story in Part One brought back sharp memories of everyone. The titles in Part Two provoked no memory are all — but it is a recognition of Alice Munro’s brilliance that within a page or two of starting each one they moved sharply into focus. My subconscious was obviously more deeply affected than I had thought.

It isn’t just the national chauvinist in me that is proud she won the Man Booker International — the reader is every bit as happy that such an outstanding talent has been recognized, even if I am a sometimes grumpy critic of her work. Franzen is right; the rest of the world is missing something by not reading Alice Munro.

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