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on 29 April 2014
The stories in 'Dear Life' give the reader insight into a range of individuals who have to live with the consequences of the decisions or chance encounters of a moment. A man steps down from a train, a woman and her daughter board a train, a new job renews an old acquaintance, a brief encounter at a party creates a whole arc of connection to a love affair: these moments are inextricably enmeshed in the texture of otherwise ordinary lives. Munro's written style is not overtly literary, but modest and readable, in the same way that wholesome food is delicious and satisfying beyond its simple ingredients.
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on 6 June 2017
Amazing book - highly recommend Alice Munro. Her short stories are just brilliant.
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on 14 March 2015
Exceptional study of human nature; each story very cleverly takes the reader on a journey of anticipation - some of which is quite foreboding. My first Alice Munro, and certainly not my last.
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on 23 August 2014
great read
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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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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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"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 6 April 2014
Such luminous writing - and I'm not just saying that because she won the Nobel Prize last year, but that she is truly an exceptional writer of the short form, as I have observed of her retrospective anthology, Carried Away: A Selection of Stories.

Munro's latest, and purportedly, her last collection, "Dear Life", sparkles with her acute sense of what makes people tick, and these stories delve under the layers of human behaviour to confront the (shocking and yet familiar) motivations behind façades in a probing, yet non-judgemental way. Most impressively, Munro manages to clinch the point she's making in such an understated and almost blasé fashion, that it is easy to miss its significance if you are not paying attention, but if you do, the rewards are stellar.

In the first story, "To Reach Japan", Greta, on the train with her young daughter, meets a young couple, and the man starts to entertain her daughter. Through Greta's thoughts, Munro articulates what a mother feels when someone shows their children affection, hoping they won't get hurt in the end: "Greta was hoping that he wasn't one of those adults who make friends with children mostly to test their own charms, then grow bored and grumpy when they realize how tireless a child's affections can be".

In "Leaving Maverley", an ex-policeman, Ray, with an ailing wife, Isabel, reels with shock when she finally dies in a hospital, even though he has been expecting it: "She had existed and now she did not. Not at all, as if not ever. And people hurried around, as if this outrageous fact could be overcome by making sensible arrangements. He, too, obeyed the customs, signing where he was told to sign, arranging - as they said - for the remains." Munro doles out the pathos of this moment , but not without driving home the aptly-placed bitter humour of the next lines: "What an excellent word - `remains.' Like something left to dry out in sooty layers in a cupboard."

Another feature of Munro's short stories that makes them so engaging is the very organic nature of the narration. The peripheral takes centerstage when you least expect it, and apparently minor characters come to some prominence, and yet fading away at critical junctures, just like how life is. For example, in "Leaving Maverley" above, the story starts not with Ray the policeman, but Morgan Holly, the owner and projectionist of a movie theatre in Maverley, and Leah, a teenager, who comes to work as a ticket seller.

The organic nature of Munro's storytelling is so insidious that it sometimes thwarts the reader's expectations, and you find yourself reading a very different story from that which you start out with. In the wonderfully-written "In Sight of the Lake", a woman who is in fear of developing dementia drives out to the specialist clinic a day early to familiarise herself with her appointment, and makes an unlikely friend in a brief encounter, but the story develops into a suspenseful tale, that is arguably more in the vein of a Stephen King piece.

Munro pointedly separates fact from fiction in the last 4 pieces in the ominously-titled section, "Finale", where she explains that these works "are not quite stories. They form a separate unit, one that is autobiographical in feeling, though not, sometimes entirely so in fact." Perhaps Munro understands the fictional worlds that she creates are so authentic and "life-like", that she needs to remind the reader that they are not real life. She has done this previously in her memoir-like collection, The View From Castle Rock, which she took pains to explain that they were based on her experiences, but not fact.

But for all the distinction Munro makes in the "Finale" section, the reader is confused when he or she confronts these lines in the titular "Dear Life" of the "autobiographical" section. When describing her childhood neighbour whom she does not know, she explains: "Rory Grain, his name was, and he does not have any further part in what I'm writing now, in spite of his troll's name, because this is not a story, only life." Well, yes. Perhaps. But Munro has made such an art of making her stories look like life, that the distinction is spurious. And I for one, am happily befuddled.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 1 January 2015
Alice Munro’s award of the 2013 Nobel Prize for Literature has recognised the importance of the hitherto rather lowly short story. This collection of fourteen stories, published in 2012, covers a period from the 1930s to the 1970s and are set in rural locations not too far from Toronto. It is significant that Munro was born in 1931.

A common feature of the stories is the modest events that associated mainly with female characters of various ages – young [‘Gravel Pit’] to old [‘In Sight of the Lake’]. The latter begins jokingly ‘A woman goes to her doctor to have a prescription renewed. But the doctor is not there. It’s her day off. In fact the woman has got the day wrong, she has mixed up Monday with Thursday’ and suggests a very different kind of story to what we get. In ‘Leaving Waverly’ we follow a young woman in a fragmentary manner across many decades whilst she remains the focus of a man’s obsession.

The four final stories, including the title story which concludes the collection, are grouped, being ‘autobiographical in feeling, though not, sometimes, entirely so in fact’, and preceded by a brief comment that includes Munro’s admission that ‘I believe they are the first and last – and the closest – things I have to say about my own life.’

Many of the stories demonstrate how characters influence one another - in ‘Train’, a returning soldier shelters on a farm with a woman and stays on. It describes the long-term effects of child sexual abuse and also interweaves suicide and cancer. These are all obliquely described but this enhances, rather than detracts from, the darkness of the narrative. When offered a caretaker’s job, the ex-soldier departs for into another new life leaving the reader, rather than the writer, to evaluate his behaviour.

In ‘Dolly’, described by an elderly lady looking back on her life, an Avon-style cosmetics seller makes friends with a woman who turns out to be a former girl friend of her husband; however, as with ‘In Sight of the Lake’, it opens with a suggestion of a very different direction of travel, 'That fall there had been some discussion of death. Our deaths. ... We had decided against cremation, which was popular with our friends. It was just the actual dying that had been left out or up to chance.'

‘Corrie’, presenting a long illicit love affair between a rich, crippled woman and a married architect, leads to a devastating revelation, a rather atypical turn of events in these stories. Frequently the character at the centre of the story changes as we read on. ‘Amundsen’ offers an interesting glimpse of the operation of a hospital for children suffering with TB and links this to a doomed relationship between the doctor in charge and a young teacher brought in to keep the children occupied. The author effectively considers the repressed emotions of these two characters as well as a teenage girl with a crush on the doctor. The reader is left to speculate how the story might have developed if one or more of these characters had been more experienced in life.

The most impressive story, along with ‘In Sight of the Lake’, is ‘To Reach Japan’ which opens the collection. This is about a woman, whose marriage is dissolving, having a one-­night stand with a young actor on a trans-continental train ignoring her small daughter who is travelling with her. The overlapping binary relationships between the husband and wife, mother and daughter, the lovers are played out against the long railroad journey. It ends, ‘She just stood waiting for whatever had to come next.’, which summarises the resignation that many of the characters in these stories show towards the overwhelming forces of life. Munro’s handling of the range of emotions in this story is remarkable. The actor was brought up in a strict religious community, a theme running through many of the stories.

The compression of the narratives and their non-chronological presentations means that these are not stories to skim through but, for the attentive reader, they are very rewarding.
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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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