Join 3,440 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


“She would live now, not read.”
July 2, 2013 7:23 AM   Subscribe

Alice Munro Puts Down Her Pen to Let the World In: Accepting a literary prize in Toronto last month, Alice Munro, the acclaimed short-story writer — “our Chekhov,” as Cynthia Ozick has called her — winner of the Man Booker International Prize and just about every important North American literary award for which she is eligible, told a newspaper interviewer, “I’m probably not going to write anymore.”
posted by Fizz (32 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
Not everyone is a fan though.
posted by Fizz at 7:23 AM on July 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Well, I'll be sad about it, but she can do what she wants, and it'll decrease the likelihood of me renewing my subscription to the New Yorker by, oh, 2.5%. I have a lot to go through still before even getting through half of her output, so it won't hurt too much. She's an awesome, subtle talent though, and will be missed.
posted by LionIndex at 7:32 AM on July 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


She's 82. Let her do whatever she wants. If someone gave me a large prize for printing T-shirts or playing music at age 82, and I could afford to, I'd wrap the whole thing up, too.
posted by Devils Rancher at 8:02 AM on July 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


This seems like a spontaneous decision prompted by a personal tragedy. Here's hoping that, after six months or so, she'll get back into the game. It's not that easy to shake off the writing bug.
posted by Gordion Knott at 8:05 AM on July 2, 2013


This seems like a spontaneous decision prompted by a personal tragedy. Here's hoping that, after six months or so, she'll get back into the game. It's not that easy to shake off the writing bug.

Based on recent interviews I've read, it seems as if she's been contemplating this for a while. While it's always sad to hear of a talented writer setting down the pen. I think she's earned the right to do this, for whatever reason. I wish her well.
posted by Fizz at 8:10 AM on July 2, 2013


Now if only some internet commenters could make the same choice.......
posted by C.A.S. at 8:22 AM on July 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


She began to make her reputation with her fifth and sixth books, “The Moons of Jupiter” (1982) and “The Progress of Love” (1986), in which she frequently spurned the traditional architecture of the short story, beginning at the end and ending sometimes in the middle.

Oh, good. I was wondering which of her collections to read next. I'm very much looking forward to getting so saturated with her tropes and themes and tics and such that I can fully appreciate (if not agree with) the LRB takedown Fizz references in the first comment. Because right now, I think her stories are routinely beautiful and often amazing.
posted by mediareport at 8:56 AM on July 2, 2013


The LRB article is a shitty piece of work based primarily on an iconoclastic impulse and little more. Here's an excellent corrective (from Salon, of all places). And nobody in their right mind takes Leah McLaren seriously, even and especially when she's writing about writing.

Here's a representative paragraph from the LRB. Fine criticism this is not:
Reading ten of her collections in a row has induced in me not a glow of admiration but a state of mental torpor that spread into the rest of my life. I became sad, like her characters, and like them I got sadder. I grew attuned to the ways life is shabby or grubby, words that come up all the time in her stories, as well as to people’s residential and familial histories, details she never leaves out. ... I saw everyone heading towards cancer, or a case of dementia that would rob them of the memories of the little adulteries they’d probably committed and must have spent their whole lives thinking about. ‘You’re reading them the wrong way,’ someone told me. This too ought to go without saying. Munro’s stories suffer when they’re collected because the right way to read them is in a magazine, where they can be tucked between, say, a report on the war in Syria and a reconsideration of Stefan Zweig to provide a rural interlude between current atrocities and past masterpieces, or profiles of celebrities or sophisticated entrepreneurs. A slice of sad life in the sticks, filtered through an enlightened eye and most likely set ‘in the old days’.
Come the fuck on. If you're going to write criticism, then write criticism, not a complaint that realist fiction is too much like reality.
posted by jokeefe at 9:05 AM on July 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


Philip Roth set down the quill last year, too.
posted by Mister_A at 9:21 AM on July 2, 2013


Munro’s later tendency to heap on details for details’ sake and load up her stories with false leads
Oh, like in Pale Fire.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 9:29 AM on July 2, 2013


> The LRB article is a shitty piece of work based primarily on an iconoclastic impulse and little more.

I came here to say that. Their publication of that nasty garbage makes me significantly less likely to renew my subscription to the LRB.

Also, much as I love Munro, her stories have gotten so grim and depressing I have to take a deep breath before plunging into them these days. Not that I want her to stop writing!
posted by languagehat at 9:48 AM on July 2, 2013


Based on recent interviews I've read, it seems as if she's been contemplating this for a while.

Munro has published a few titles since she began announcing her retirement years back. Maybe she'll take up... um, more writing for her retirement? Like farewell tours for The Who.

There is a grain of truth in the LRB hack about the pervasive Munro cult, and I wouldn't be surprised if there actually were Munro-promoting messages woven onto Canadian currency. I resisted reading her work for years because of the overwhelming hype. But when I finally started reading her books, I was rather impressed. Alice Munro is a genius.
posted by ovvl at 11:06 AM on July 2, 2013


The LRB article is a shitty piece of work based primarily on an iconoclastic impulse and little more.

We know why critics are critics, don't we? Because they have failed.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:08 AM on July 2, 2013


Alice Munro is taught in introductory English classes at university in Canada, and when I first read her as an undergrad I was totally hooked.

The most unusual sensation I've ever had was about 15 years ago thumbing through a New Yorker magazine in a bookstore in Kyoto and coming across an Alice Munro story that takes place in Victoria and in Parksville, on Vancouver Island. Parksville is a popular resort with Islanders and I had spent many summers there.

It was so strange to be standing in a bookstore in Japan (this would have been just before I got broadband Internet, no smartphones or even laptops in my life at that point) during a hot, humid and somewhat smelly summer and suddenly be transported back to the dry, mellow, Douglas fir scents of Vancouver Island in the summertime.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:12 AM on July 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


> There is a grain of truth in the LRB hack about the pervasive Munro cult

Well, of course there is, just as there's a Shakespeare cult and an Emily Dickinson cult and a Pushkin cult. Why? Because they're great writers and affect people viscerally. To use that fact to try to cudgel and diminish the writer is vile and contemptible.
posted by languagehat at 11:13 AM on July 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


Thank you Ms. Munro for all of the wonderful short stories published in your incredibly prolific career.
posted by caddis at 12:21 PM on July 2, 2013


Even if they represent very different points of view, the LRB and Salon pieces seem to me to be about equally excellent as attempts to understand Munro's work (and that is, not especially), as well as equally interesting as people's meaningless opinions (and that is, sort of). "It's pretty feeble", goes Lorentzen, essentially, and Minor goes, "But it is not feeble." Well, whatever. I think Lorentzen has read quite enough of Alice Munro's writing to feel any way he likes about it, and as much as I love her, I also think that nothing he said was particularly objectionable, and can easily see how he might think those terrible things. He's blind to what's great about her, but it's quiet portraits of domestic aching, not chocolate-coated gold, and, inevitably, some people will find it pretty easy to turn down, no matter how good it is. I say, fair enough.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 1:32 PM on July 2, 2013


No, Alice, say it ain't so!

The distance between grubby Ontario and grubby Michigan, where I grew up, is small and I wonder if the LRB writer isn't afflicted with a little too much contempt for the stolid rural midwesterners.
posted by klangklangston at 1:40 PM on July 2, 2013


Not everyone is a fan though.

“I became sad, like her characters, and like them I got sadder. I grew attuned to the ways life is shabby or grubby, words that come up all the time in her stories … I saw everyone heading towards cancer, or a case of dementia that would rob them of the memories of the little adulteries they’d probably committed and must have spent their whole lives thinking about.”

For better or worse, this was my impression. I could not think of a more boring, depressing slog at 16 than The Stone Angel. Requiring teenagers to read that in high school was just not a great idea. I never read another thing by Munro after that. I can't help but think her short stories would have been a much better way to encourage kids to appreciate Canadian authors.
posted by Hoopo at 1:57 PM on July 2, 2013


I'm not familiar with Munro as much as I should be, so there could well be two stories with that title, but Stone Angel is Margaret Lawrence, no?
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 2:38 PM on July 2, 2013 [4 favorites]


> "It's pretty feeble", goes Lorentzen, essentially, and Minor goes, "But it is not feeble." Well, whatever. I think Lorentzen has read quite enough of Alice Munro's writing to feel any way he likes about it

Of course he can feel any way he likes about it, but the whole point of publishing a brutal takedown like this is to prove to everyone how big and bad you are, how you dare to trash the hitherto unassailable. And the whole point of the LRB publishing it is to shock people and get them to talk about it—to troll for pageviews, as it were. A decent literary magazine would not publish this as written, they'd send it back and say "We don't trade in hatchet jobs, find something more interesting to say." This is on the level of some celebrity mag deciding that a star has had too much good publicity and it's time to start the ball rolling in the other direction.

I don't like fish, but I don't think a respectable magazine devoted to analysis of food in its cultural context would commission, or pay me for, a many-thousand-word essay that basically says "Fish sucks, and if you think you like it you're a fool."
posted by languagehat at 2:41 PM on July 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


languagehat, I'd read your anti-fish essay, and probably agree with it.
posted by Cranberry at 3:06 PM on July 2, 2013


For better or worse, this was my impression. I could not think of a more boring, depressing slog at 16 than The Stone Angel. Requiring teenagers to read that in high school was just not a great idea. I never read another thing by Munro after that. I can't help but think her short stories would have been a much better way to encourage kids to appreciate Canadian authors.

The Stone Angel is by Margaret Laurence. And seriously, what you hate at 16 you may love at 40, once life and experience have taught you what to value. I read all of Laurence when I was a teenager, and oh was my take on The Fire Dwellers different at 35 than it was when I was 18. An order of magnitude different. That's what literature is for, in some respects: to convey alien experience and teach us to be better human beings.
posted by jokeefe at 3:10 PM on July 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


And, not to belabour the point, but: "I saw everyone heading towards cancer, or a case of dementia"-- that is called the Human Condition. It's not grounds for complaint regarding works of art. We are all heading towards a cancer or a case of dementia, eventually; Shakespeare has a lot to say about this, too, and is worth consulting.
posted by jokeefe at 3:14 PM on July 2, 2013


I have some sympathy for someone who gets Laurence and Munro mixed up, superficially they have similar styles. I was forced to read 'The Stone Angel' in school when I was 17 and I hated it, it just seemed drab to me at the time. Now I can appreciate Margaret Laurence better, understanding more of the subtleties.

I don't know about the LRB hack, but a crash course in Munro, "After reading 10 of her story collections in a row", now that is really the wrong way to sip the wine, dude..
posted by ovvl at 3:31 PM on July 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


That Salon piece is not the best takedown of Lorentzen's braindead review, but it does helpfully link to his snide but fundamentally laudatory interview with every Mefite's favorite author, Tao Lin -- the one which, as his fans here may recall, ends:
The Observer said, “Your Concrete/Literal Style rolls back all the advances Flaubert made in the representation of consciousness. But by rolling back modernity, you’ve also advanced the novel by exposing its distortions.”

Tao Lin went to the bathroom.

The Observer thought, “This guy pees a lot.”

Five minutes later The Observer said, “I am going to write a profile of you in your style.”

Tao Lin said, “You should end it with a sentence like the one I’m saying now.”
posted by chortly at 3:40 PM on July 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


The Stone Angel is by Margaret Laurence.

oh jeez, embarrassing!

what you hate at 16 you may love at 40

I agree, that was what I was trying to say before I botched it right out of the gate. I did keep up with a number of other Canadian authors we were introduced to in high school, but not Margaret Laurence. Or Alice Munro out of some confusion apparently.

And, not to belabour the point, but: "I saw everyone heading towards cancer, or a case of dementia"-- that is called the Human Condition. It's not grounds for complaint regarding works of art

It depends how the author treats it and handles it, really. It is certainly possible to handle the human condition poorly, or even to focus too much on the existential at the expense of humour. Not everything needs to be Nausea, not every life in literature needs to be a reflection on death and decay or being racked by guilt and regret and trauma. These are valid approaches to criticism in my opinion, but generally if that's where the criticism is coming from then maybe it's more a case of the particular book simply not being your cup of tea.
posted by Hoopo at 4:44 PM on July 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


For better or worse, this was my impression. I could not think of a more boring, depressing slog at 16 than The Stone Angel.

Written by Carol Urquhart or Jane Shields, I think.
posted by KokuRyu at 4:53 PM on July 2, 2013


I've been following this retired prof who used to teach the short story and now blogs regularly about them - he's written a couple books I think looking at Alice Munro specifically. His analyses have really opened the short story up to me in the same way as FilmCritHulk's more thorough approach to film, so that I can see a lot better now the very different angle to novels that short stories take in telling narratives, for instance, and their purpose in doing so. I've had to adjust my worldview accordingly.

Along the same vein is Lauren Groff reading Alice Munro's 'Axis' for the New Yorker podcast (which is free). I've just been getting into these and it's incredible the difference when you're actually hearing the story. But they also chat about it afterwards, and the conversation is very good.
posted by onwords at 5:44 PM on July 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Written by Carol Urquhart or Jane Shields, I think.

Maybe Farley Davies?
posted by Hoopo at 9:00 PM on July 2, 2013 [4 favorites]


We know why critics are critics, don't we? Because they have failed.

That is both trite and untrue. What is true, however, is that this particular critic is either lazy or just a moron.

Anyway, though I wish her a joyous retirement, I'm sad to read this. I feel like there was this extraordinary 10-year generation of superlative women authors (Alice Walker, Toni Morrison, Margaret Atwood, Alice Munro, Joan Didion, Gail Godwin) who are all now beginning to exit stage left, and it pains me.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:53 PM on July 4, 2013


Joan Didion I've never gotten the love for. Everything I've read from her just comes across as smug and selfish in a way I find obnoxious. Joyce Carol Oates is of the same generation (and has her problems) but is at least to me much more entertaining.
posted by klangklangston at 1:35 AM on July 5, 2013


« Older The Malayali Nurse on the Moon...  |  This month, citizens and plann... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments