'Runaway': Alice's Wonderland
November 13, 2004 7:14 AM   Subscribe

'Runaway': Alice's Wonderland Knockout of a book review by wonderful writer about a marvelous author: "JONATHAN FRANZEN I want to circle around Alice Munro's latest marvel, "Runaway," by taking some guesses at why her excellence so dismayingly exceeds her fame."
posted by Postroad (11 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Huh. Not in Canada-- she's a national icon. Just won the Giller Prize for the second time, too.
posted by jokeefe at 8:08 AM on November 13, 2004

as the article says in the first sentence, jokeefe.

anyways, i'm reading some lyrical, tremblingly earnest, faux-literary stuff at the moment - wittgenstein's mistress and i can't imagine "short stories about people" being as entertaining. it even has the world's sexiest narrator, ever, in my literary wanna bee (amazon review) opinion. and some very good jokes. if you've got a basic knowledge of the western canon (up to the current day) then i can't imagine a better book. so there.
posted by andrew cooke at 8:22 AM on November 13, 2004

good post, Franzen nails it when he goes meta on the book reviewing process:

5. Munro writes fiction, and fiction is harder to review than nonfiction. Here's Bill Clinton, he's written a book about himself, and how interesting. How interesting. The author himself is interesting -- can there be a better qualification for writing a book about Bill Clinton than actually being Bill Clinton? -- and then, too, everybody has an opinion about Bill Clinton and wonders what Bill Clinton says and doesn't say in his new book about himself, and how Bill Clinton spins this and refutes that, and before you know it the review has practically written itself.
But who is Alice Munro? She is the remote provider of intensely pleasurable private experiences. And since I'm not interested in reviewing her new book's marketing campaign or in being entertainingly snarky at her expense, and since I'm reluctant to talk about the concrete meaning of her new work, because this is difficult to do without revealing too much plot, I'm probably better off just serving up a nice quote for Alfred A. Knopf to pull -- ''Munro has a strong claim to being the best fiction writer now working in North America. 'Runaway' is a marvel'' -- and suggesting to the Book Review's editors that they run the biggest possible photograph of Munro in the most prominent of places, plus a few smaller photos of mildly prurient interest (her kitchen? her children?) and maybe a quote from one of her rare interviews -- (...) -- and just leave it at that.

not that Franzen himself didn't benefit from that most flawed process, but still.


a couple years ago in the NY Review of Books (it's online, but for subscribers only), the great Lorrie Moore wrote had great insights. "money" quote:

Like Henry James, Alice Munro knows that love's "floating bridge" between worlds—and over swamps— can bring a ruinous fate as easily and indifferently as can its absence. But Munro also knows that the arranging of love, improvised or institutional, and the seismic upheavals of its creation and dismantling—the boards rising and falling precariously beneath the feet—is both a kind of pornography of life as well as the very truth of it: it is often the most persuasive and defining force in the shape of individual existence and individual fate. Not that this is to be valued, or judged—in Munro's world there is a powerlessness before the whole matter—only that such a thing is to be maturely understood and perceptively watched. "Their marriages were the real content of their lives," she writes in "Comfort," "...the sometimes harsh and bewildering, indispensable content of her life." Unlike James, a permanent tourist in the land of marriage and romantic union—a subject endlessly suited to the short-story genre —Alice Munro is intimately informed about what actually goes on there, and it is but one of the many reasons she is (to speak historically, and to speak even, say, in a Russian or French or Irish saloon, loudly and unarmed) one of the world's greatest short-story writers. As the writer Ethan Canin once said, "The stories of Alice Munro make everyone else's look like the work of babies."

posted by matteo at 8:24 AM on November 13, 2004

"the great Lorrie Moore had great insights"

my bad

posted by matteo at 8:30 AM on November 13, 2004

andrew cooke: Snark acknowleged. My bad, as the kids used to say.

Though I still find the thought of Jonathan Franzen praising Munro's lack of authorial ego a little... odd.
posted by jokeefe at 8:40 AM on November 13, 2004

big sloppy kiss
posted by andrew cooke at 9:12 AM on November 13, 2004

This article is a tad overwritten, no?
posted by kenko at 9:27 AM on November 13, 2004

Alice Munro is EXCELLENT.

Jonathan Franzen, not so much (in my book). I agree with him, but that article seems ponderous and yawn-making.
posted by Sidhedevil at 4:19 PM on November 13, 2004

franzen, you little slut. get back to work on your novel!
posted by _sirmissalot_ at 8:05 PM on November 13, 2004

I agree with Sidhedevil's assessment in every way.
posted by jennanemone at 8:24 PM on November 14, 2004

Poor Jonathan Franzen, to be forever tied to the fact that he snubbed Oprah and thought his book was better than most of the books she picked. (He was right, though it wasn't as good as he thought it was.)
posted by orange swan at 9:27 AM on November 17, 2004

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