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on 22 February 2013
Canadian writer Alice Munro is the undisputed queen of the short story format and this collection, which the author (approaching 82) hints may be her last, may also be her best.

The stories are all set in familiar Munro territory around Lake Huron and all of them revolve around small incidents in generally modest, some would say ordinary, lives. That is not their limitation but their strength. There are no extra trappings to distract from the sensibilities of the (generally female) central characters. The simplicity in the telling belies the complexity of the felt experience but brings us in to experience it virtually at first hand. There is a particularly quality of wistfulness about these late stories, as if the author has turned for one last contemplative look back down a road travelled and not to be returned upon, as if each story carries a personal memory, not simply a story-teller's conjuration.

This is certainly true of the last four pieces which the author introduces with an explanation that these are indeed memoir not stories. They gain an extra poignancy by being avowedly autobiographical, and they add to the sense of valediction. I do hope, however, this is not to be Ms Munro's farewell.
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This is our current book group choice and I must also admit my first foray into Alice Munro's writings. One thing that perhaps I should make people aware of, if like me this is your first time, then disregard the hype. There is a lot of hype surrounding Alice Munro, and this book as well, some of it deserved, but also quite a bit that is perhaps misleading, so forget what you may have read or been told about this and just read it and base it on the merits that you find in it.

This is a collection of short stories, some of which have been published before, and the last four pieces here are as the author herself describes them, autobiographical and not really stories as such. Munro writes with at times a broad brush stroke conveying scenes and people, giving an impression rather than a deeply descriptive story. At times we are led gradually into what has happened in the past to a character, as for instance in one story a man jumps off a train, but it isn't really until later we find out why he got off where he did, instead of waiting until he reached home. By playing with your expectations in this way Munro manages to keep you absorbed and compelled to carry on, and find out what the ultimate ending will be to each story.

Perhaps not for everyone, for a start you have to be into short stories, this collection does make for a very interesting and entertaining read that will hopefully give us much to discuss at our next meeting.
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on 8 December 2012
Alice Munro is one of the best writers in the English speaking world. I have read none better. This collection confirms this and more. The stories are sparse, but contain more about the human condition than most novels twice the length. Some of the stories hit you in the pit of the stomach with their strange and rather frightening denouments. It takes several days before you can go back and continue reading. One imparticular is 'Train'. The thing about her stories is that you can go back and read them again and again and get a completely different angle on a story. Like life really. This collection is nothing but brilliant as with all her books.
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on 28 December 2013
Although this collection of 14 short stories helped Alice Munro win the Nobel Prize for literature, and the cover of my edition says `Winner of The Man Booker International Prize', this is misleading. Both awards are recognition for a long history of great writing. And fair enough, who can argue with that? But they don't apply specifically to these latest works, which I don't rate as highly as some of her earlier collections.

As with most of Alice Munro's work, we cover long periods of time in a short space, usually with a quick summing up at the end, the main theme being, I suppose, how lives change; birth, sex and death.
Most of the stories are set around the end of the Second World War, some a little later, and one thing that struck me, about some of them at least, was the way the main female character was so easily led into a sexual relationship by a man who was clearly taking advantage of her, as if she had no say in the matter. (I'm thinking here especially of the second story, Amundsen, but it applies to the first one as well, and several others too). Perhaps this is the author's point; that women were badly treated by domineering men even more in those days than they are now, and they sometimes submitted without apparent protest.

My main criticism is that some of these stories require the reader to believe in unlikely events, without actually making them seem believable. Short tories don't give much scope for things such as plot and character development, so there's a risk that they just seem like a pointless attempt at a bit of drama; someone dies unexpectedly, but so what? It's only fiction. We aren't given the chance to really get involved, so why should we care?
Another minor point is that some of these stories are written in the first person, yet we never get to know much about the various narrators; I assumed always that they were female, because they mostly are and of course the author is a woman, but then one story, we discover near the end, is narrated by a man, which threw me a bit.
The final four stories in this collection are autobiographical in nature, and although this might make them of interest to some, I found them fairly tame compared to the fictional stuff. But there again, it's all very well written and easy to read. Just don't expect to become engrossed, as you might with a good novel.
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This is the 7th volume of short stories of Alice Munro that I've read (and reviewed). It is like coming home to an old friend; one who knows all too well the stories of the lives of the people one grew up with. How did so-and-so turn out? She knows, and she can explain the twists and turns of their lives in wonderful incisive prose. Never too much, just the essence of the story, a novel's worth of character development distilled into 20 or 30 pages. Faulkner famously knew the many stories of the people who inhabited the area around Oxford Mississippi that he called Yoknapatawpha County. Munro's characters will range over much of Canada, but they are centered on small town life in Huron County, western Ontario. Both have been awarded, rightly, the Nobel Prize for Literature. And, for what it is worth, I've given each of Munro's six collections of short stories that I have previously read a "6-star" rating at Amazon, as I have this current collection.

Love, and un-love, its "anti-matter" complement are woven into most of her stories. So too is the impact of the Great Depression as well as World War II on rural Canadian life. Her stories weave back and forth across time, and a character's motivation is often explained in words that ring so true, and you have to wonder how Munro would know them. For example, one of the longest stories is entitled "Train." A soldier is coming home from World War II, and inexplicable hops off the train before it arrives at his destination. He stops at a farm house, and takes up with the woman who is living there alone. He proves himself handy, performing those essential functions that some women seek, often described as "taking out the garbage." In this story, as in some others, there is the chance meeting of someone from your youth, that you had not seen for 40 years. And then there is the motivational insight, summed up in a pithy observation of a woman in far-off Southhampton, England: "That's enough, sonny boy, you're down and out."

In this collection the last four stories are directly drawn from Munro's life, or, as she says: "I believe they are the first and last - and the closest - things I have to say about my own life." As with so many stories, they strongly resonated, and stirred up memories of my own childhood I had never truly reflected on. Like, for example, how one's childhood home was orientated, and the distance it was from the town, and how that might have impacted one's development. There was an older "caregiver," as we call them today, how she suddenly disappeared, and how that was explained. It has been decades since I thought about the first time I was in the hospital, age 6, to have my tonsils removed, and the crazy hallucinations that ether can induce. One of Munro's stories about her own first operation - her only one - stirred up those memories. As did the last story, whose title was used for this collection, and is a specific phrase that has numerous usages: "Dear Life." It was a reminder that in those seemingly more innocent times of one's youth that there were "crazy people" out there that could have brought your life to an early end, save for that all important element of chance.

The power of the Nobel. Munro is now read much more today. Currently this book has 586 reviews, and I am confident that number will soon surpass a thousand. When I posted my reviews of her other collections, many had only 10-20 reviews, and in some cases, that is still true, for example The Beggar Maid: Stories of Flo and Rose,Friend Of My Youth and The Progress Of Love. I would strongly encourage consideration being given to each of those collections also, as they are of the same quality of this one: 6-stars.
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on 9 April 2014
"Dear Life: Stories" by Alice Munro is her latest story collection in which with her special literary style she succeeds to shows us melancholy of our everyday existence.

Not all of her stories are sorrowful, instead they are not happy, like the ordinary days in our life aren't pure happiness, in her stories reader won't find happy endings or easy problem resolutions, as is often the case.

It's hard to define what the themes of her stories are, most of the times it's only the one moment when your life is heading in a different direction than what you hoped for, what do you expected...

She focuses on that specific time or event when such things are happening, when our future is changing, and at this time her characters aren't aware of it.

In most occasions it's almost unbelievable to see how much small choices can affect our future, how some tiny moment in one of our days can shape our destiny.

And this is something that makes Alice Munro special because the reader while reading her stories really thinks about her/his life, about her/his decisions, about our moments that already happened or will happen that will change our fate.

You'll find yourself so deeply drawn into her stories that you'll be sure you know these people, that you can give them good advice, you will criticize their bad decisions, that you want to help them even you know they won't listen anyway...

Due to that, these are stories that will stay in your mind for a long time after you'll close last page and therefore I can only recommend you to step into author's world, the world that isn't fictional, the world in which we all live.
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on 19 November 2013
Never having read any of Alice Munro, I decided to investigate her writings after she was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. I really enjoyed this book of short stories which could be any from any community in any country because it is based on human nature its foibles and prejudices and constraints. I look forward to reading more of her work.
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on 5 July 2015
While not every story in 'Dear Life' appealed to me, and it's true that the overall effect is that of mellow, overwhelming sadness, I can absolutely see why Alice Munro was given the Nobel prize. Her writing covers such an enormous range of human emotions yet it is taut as a drum, no waffling whatsoever - sentimental or otherwise. This relentless economy is perhaps what some readers find hard to cope with; plus, people nowadays seem to whine all the time that 'Oooo, argh, the characters aren't to my liking!', to which I would say grow up, people, or go back to reading children's books. In the adult world, the gold standard is NOT to produce saccharine, "likeable-at-all-cost" stuff, but well-written characters and stories.

And boy, does Alice Munro know how to do it. This book contains 'Amundsen' which is, for my money, the most beautiful and heart-breaking love story ever written (bar Joyce's 'The Dead'). It is so elegant and atmospheric, I felt transported inside of a 1940s film, and it tugs at your heartstrings without even trying. I can't ever remember shouting 'Whaaaat?!' in the middle and then being reduced to tears by a single, unexpected little sentence at the end of one little story.

Sure, we won't feel all warm and fuzzy inside after reading this book, but then again, real life also rarely leaves us feeling full of beans, does it? I love this writer for showing so much respect for us, her readers, by refusing to sugar-coat anything.
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on 28 January 2014
Dear Life is divided into two parts. The first one consists of ten short stories, the second of four autobiographical pieces. I'll only review the short stories. As far as I can remember, all of them are set in Canada, many in the 20th century. Of course, Alice Munro knows her trade. She understands how to set the scene and how to transfer atmosphere.

In Dear Life, Alice Munro's characters often seem to share similarities. The oppressed woman, the confused man and sometimes a child to tell us all about their problems. What struck me most, was how Mrs. Munro told stories from a child's perspective. Especially in "Gravel". You really think you are a child experiencing what the narrator experienced.

Unfortunately, technique isn't everything. Don't get me wrong, "To Reach Japan" was perfect! I also enjoyed "Amundsen" and "In Sight Of The Lake". But the remaining seven short stories didn't do the trick. They were okay, but I really expected more than just "okay". While "To Reach Japan" was captivating and left me thinking, "Dolly" for example, left me indifferent.

As Alice Munro has won the Nobel Prize, I'm sure there are better short story collections out there. If life is like it is shown in Dear Life, it's mostly dull, gray and tedious.
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on 10 November 2013
The only other (Nobel-prize-winning) Alice Munro I've read was 'The progress of love', nineteen years ago, and I remember being very impressed. Key moments in a couple of those stories have stayed with me ever since. So, despite not being a fan of the short form, I was looking forward to this reading-group pick.

It was all right, I suppose, especially the autobiographical pieces at the end, and there were echoes in places of the wonderful novelist Anne Tyler, but for those who haven't tried Munro's stories, I would recommend starting with an earlier vintage than 'Dear life'.
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