Reading guide for Dear Life by Alice Munro

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Dear Life

Stories

By Alice Munro

Dear Life
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • Hardcover: Nov 2012,
    336 pages.
    Paperback: Jul 2013,
    336 pages.

    Publication Information

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Elizabeth Whitmore Funk

Buy This Book

About this Book

Reading Guide Questions Print Excerpt

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

"To Reach Japan"
  1. What are Greta's feelings toward her husband and her marriage as she is leaving for Toronto? What remains unspoken between them?
  2. Discuss what Katy understands and experiences on this journey. What does Katy feel about Greg, and then about Harris Bennett? Why does Munro end the story as she does, with Katy pulling away from her mother? Does the story suggest that there is an inevitable cost when a woman attempts to break through the limitations of her life?
  3. Discuss the paragraph beginning, "It would become hard to explain, later on in her life, just what was okay in that time and what was not", in light of Greta's actions. She is a poet: How troubling is the gap between her identities as wife and mother, and as poet and artist?

"Pride"

  1. What do Oneida and the narrator have in common? How are they very different? The narrator is embarrassed that she has taken care of him when he was ill, and assumes that he is "like a neuter to her." Why does he misunderstand Oneida's willingness to care for him, and her desire to live with him?
  2. What does the sight of the baby skunks evoke, at the end of the story? What light does the narrator's preface bring to your sense of what has happened between him and Oneida?

"Corrie"

  1. As in "Pride," a man underestimates a woman who is attached to him: discuss what is different about the motivations and desires of the characters in the two stories.
  2. How surprising is it when Corrie realizes that Howard has been keeping the money supposedly meant for Lillian's blackmail payments? How does Corrie figure this out? How do you interpret the final paragraph?

"Train"

  1. After the removal of a tumor, Belle is in a strange state of mind and tells Jackson about what happened on the day her father stepped in front of an oncoming train. She is relieved to have spoken about this memory. What effect does this conversation have on Jackson? What makes Jackson decide not to return to the hospital, or to Belle's house, which he stands to possibly inherit?
  2. Do the story of Jackson's relationship with Ileane Bishop, and what we learn about his stepmother's abuse, offer an adequate explanation for Jackson's transient life? What are the human costs, in this story, of what Belle calls "just the mistakes of humanity?"

"In Sight of the Lake"

  1. At what point do you understand that the narrator is having a dream? What strange details indicate this? What is dreamlike about the narrator's efforts to find the doctor's office?
  2. In what ways does the story most accurately represent the disorientation and confusion that come with aging and memory loss?

"Dolly"

  1. Franklin wrote a poem about his passionate affair with Dolly just before the war, and now, when he is eighty-three, Dolly turns up selling cosmetics. Is the narrator's reaction overblown?
  2. What is comical or incongruous about this story? What does it say about the intersection of aging, memory, and passion?

"The Eye"

  1. What aspects of the mother's behavior are troubling to her daughter and make her welcome an alliance with Sadie? What is admirable about Sadie, especially given the time period?
  2. What is strange or uncanny about the idea that Sadie, in death, might have moved her eyelid? The narrator thinks, "this sight fell into everything I knew about Sadie and somehow, as well, into whatever special experience was owing to myself." How do you interpret this moment and its meaning?

"Night"

  1. The narrator attributes the strangeness of her thoughts that particular summer to a special status, "all inward," conferred on her by learning that during a routine appendectomy, the doctor had removed a tumor "the size of a turkey's egg." She says, "I was not myself." What do you make of the narrator's efforts to explain the reasons for her state of mind and the worry that she could strangle her little sister?
  2. How does the encounter with her father help the narrator to deal with her fear about her thoughts? Why is it significant to the impact of this encounter that in this family, emotional troubles or worries usually go unexpressed?

"Voices"

  1. How is the mother's character revealed in her reaction to the presence of a prostitute at the dance, as channeled through the daughter's observations? Why does the narrator find the voices of the soldiers so intriguing and so comforting?
  2. What does the story express about the difficult relationship between mothers and daughters, especially regarding the mother's supposed role as model and mentor in her daughter's adolescence?

Questions About Dear Life

  1. What is the effect of the collection as a whole, given the order, pacing, and content of the stories? What view of life does it project?
  2. Compare the treatment of women by men in "Train," "Amundsen," "Haven," and "Corrie." Why do these women allow themselves to be lied to or taken advantage of? What is the dynamic that permits an uneven power relationship?
  3. Compare the endings of several stories. Do they end in a state of suspension or resolution? Think about how the endings invite questioning, reflection, and interpretation.
  4. Discuss the last four stories in light of Munro's brief introduction of them as "not quite stories," as "autobiographical in feeling, though not . . . entirely so in fact," and as "the first and last—and the closest—things I have to say about my own life." Should they be read as if they were fictional stories, or somehow differently? If you were to tell four important stories from your own life, what would they be?

Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Vintage. Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book:
  Alice Munro's Canada

Member Benefits

Join Now!

Check the advantages!
Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year

    •  
    • FREE
    • MEMBER
    • Range of media reviews for each book
    • Excerpts of all featured books
    • Author bios, interviews and pronunciations
    • Browse by genre
    • Book club discussions
    • Book club advice and reading guides
    • BookBrowse reviews and "beyond the book" back-stories
    •  
    • Reviews of notable books ahead of publication
    •  
    • Free books to read and review (US Only)
    •  
    • Browse for the best books by time period, setting & theme
    •  
    • Read-alike suggestions for thousands of books and authors
    •  
    • 'My Reading List" to keep track of your books
    •  
Sign up, win books!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: A Man Called Ove
    A Man Called Ove
    by Fredrik Backman
    Reading A Man Called Ove was like having Christmas arrive early. Set in Sweden, this debut novel is ...
  • Book Jacket
    The Search
    by Geoff Dyer
    All hail the independent publisher! In May 2014, Graywolf Press brought two of long-revered British ...
  • Book Jacket
    Mrs. Hemingway
    by Naomi Wood
    Naomi Wood's latest novel, Mrs. Hemingway, is a fictionalized biography covering in turn writer...

First Impressions

Members read and review books ahead
of publication. See what they think
in First Impressions!

Books that
expand your
horizons.

Visitors can view a lot of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only

Find out more.

Book Discussions
Book Jacket

Tomlinson Hill
by Chris Tomlinson

Published Jul. 2014

Join the discussion!

  1.  171The City:
    Dean Koontz
  2.  33The Arsonist:
    Sue Miller

All Discussions

Win this book!
Win The Angel of Losses

The Angel of Losses

"Family saga, mystery, and myth intersect in Feldman's debut novel." - Booklist

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

E C H A Silver L

and be entered to win..

Books thatinspire you.Handpicked.

Books you'll stay up all night reading; books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, books that will expand your mind and inspire you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.