Summary and book reviews of Dear Life by Alice Munro

Dear Life

Stories

By Alice Munro

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

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Book Reviewed by:
Elizabeth Whitmore Funk

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About this Book

Book Summary

Alice Munro's peerless ability to give us the essence of a life in often brief but always spacious and timeless stories is once again everywhere apparent in this brilliant new collection. In story after story, she illumines the moment a life is forever altered by a chance encounter or an action not taken, or by a simple twist of fate that turns a person out of his or her accustomed path and into a new way of being or thinking. A poet, finding herself in alien territory at her first literary party, is rescued by a seasoned newspaper columnist, and is soon hurtling across the continent, young child in tow, toward a hoped-for but completely unplanned meeting. A young soldier, returning to his fiancée from the Second World War, steps off the train before his stop and onto the farm of another woman, beginning a life on the move. A wealthy young woman having an affair with the married lawyer hired by her father to handle his estate comes up with a surprising way to deal with the blackmailer who finds them out.

While most of these stories take place in Munro's home territory - the small Canadian towns around Lake Huron - the characters sometimes venture to the cities, and the book ends with four pieces set in the area where she grew up, and in the time of her own childhood: stories "autobiographical in feeling, though not, sometimes, entirely so in fact." A girl who can't sleep imagines night after wakeful night that she kills her beloved younger sister. A mother snatches up her child and runs for dear life when a crazy woman comes into her yard.

Suffused with Munro's clarity of vision and her unparalleled gift for storytelling, these tales about departures and beginnings, accidents and dangers, and outgoings and homecomings both imagined and real, paint a radiant, indelible portrait of how strange, perilous, and extraordinary ordinary life can be.

Chapter 1

To Reach Japan

Once Peter had brought her suitcase on board the train he seemed eager to get himself out of the way. But not to leave. He explained to her that he was just uneasy that the train should start to move. Out on the platform looking up at their window, he stood waving. Smiling, waving. The smile for Katy was wide open, sunny, without a doubt in the world, as if he believed that she would continue to be a marvel to him, and he to her, forever. The smile for his wife seemed hopeful and trusting, with some sort of determination about it. Something that could not easily be put into words and indeed might never be. If Greta had mentioned such a thing he would have said, Don't be ridiculous. And she would have agreed with him, thinking that it was unnatural for people who saw each other daily, constantly, to have to go through explanations of any kind.

When Peter was a baby, his mother had carried him across some mountains whose name Greta kept forgetting, in order...

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 ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse

Alice Munro writes with an almost invisible, crystalline style that rarely incorporates common literary devices like simile or metaphor. The height of Munro's flourish is a bit of repetition or delicate hints at vernacular language. This clarity allows for a closer proximity to the characters, who speak and act in the straightforward manner of a moment or memory rather than the formality of a performance.   (Reviewed by Elizabeth Whitmore Funk).

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Media Reviews
Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. While many of these pieces appeared in the New Yorker, they read differently here; not only has Munro made changes, but more importantly, read together, the stories accrete, deepen, and speak to each other.

Library Journal

The stories here highlight key moments when one's life changes forever. Don't miss.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. The author knows what matters, and the stories pay attention to it.

Booklist

Starred Review. Munro's latest collection brings to mind the expression, "What is old is new again." As curiously trite and hardly complimentary as that statement may sound, it is offered as unreserved praise for the continued wonderment provided by arguably the best short-story writer in English today. Some of these 14 stories present new directions in Munro's exploration of her well-recognized universe (rural and small-town Ontario), while other stories track more familiar paths, with characters and familial situations reminiscent of previous stories.

Reader Reviews
aparna

have no enough words..
Dear Life is one of the best credits of Alice Munro. As a Nobel prize winner this is not yet a exact realization of life. In the part of a reader we expect more and more powerful scripts from the part of Alice Munro. This is only a suggestion of ...   Read More

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Alice Munro's Canada

Wingham Town Hall Alice Munro was born in Wingham, Ontario, a small town that is close to the shores of Lake Huron. This region of southern Ontario is west of Toronto and east of Michigan, and includes the industrial cities of London and Windsor, though much of the land is countryside. While Munro did occasionally live in Vancouver, most of her life has been spent in Ontario: she attended Western Ontario University and now lives in Clinton, a small town just down the road from Wingham.

The majority of Alice Munro's stories are set in this small-town, Protestant region. Her sparse, realistic, Chekhovian style has, in part, helped to establish the southern Ontario gothic literary tradition which analyzes and critiques social conditions such as race, ...

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