Recently, I read Dear Life by Alice Munro. Prior to this I had read Selected Stories, which introduced me to her contemporary style. I have yet to give the stories of Dear Life a second passing even as I discovered with Selected Stories that a second passing, maybe even a third, is needed. Munro’s stories are very complex, though they use the simplest form. The characters are deep and by the end you absolutely need to go back to get a full image of them. But, I think it will still be interesting to note, upon first passing, the stories that really stood out to me. Later I may come back after having read them again with different feelings and interpretations.
For starters, I found “Gravel” to be heart-wrenching. This is a story about a flitty mother who, after having two daughters, leaves her stable husband and stable life to shack up with a hippie-type guy, Neal, who believes he is destined for stardom in the acting biz and will get there smoking pot on his couch at home. The story is told from the point of view of one of the daughters, and is ultimately about her comprehending the death of her sister, Caro. Seeking answers, our narrator has a catalytic, or not so catalytic, meeting with Neal after she is grown, and the end weaves together different interpretations of what may have happened to Caro.
“Dolly” shows that even once older and “settled in” to a relationship, a threat can come along and spark jealousy. This is beautifully written, of course, and explores jealousy in it’s rawest form, delivering ideas that most wouldn’t admit to at any age. The story opens with a callousness that borders on flirtatious playfulness when the couple speaks of their imminent death. When an older cosmetics saleswoman, Gwen, shows up at their doorstep and finds our narrator alone, the two hit it off and our narrator realizes her own need for friendship. Upon introducing Gwen to her husband, our narrator finds this is the ‘Dolly’ her husband had told her about over the years, a woman he’d had a powerful two week fling with. And the wonderment of death falls, in our narrator’s head, to her relationship.
The book ends with four fragments of Munro’s life, four little pieces that Munro says will be the first and last things she has to say about her life. Unfortunately, these vignettes leave me yearning for more and in utter disbelief that Munro may never again put pen to paper, or at least publish it.