Sunday, December 1, 2013

Alice Munro -- Canada's first literary Nobel Laureate

Photo from CBC

Upon first reading Alice Munro's first short story collection, Who do you think you are, I was left with a feeling of discomfort that I couldn't quite put my finger on.

Could it be related to the fact that that was exactly the question my mother asked me as I negotiated my way through the rebellious teen years?

Mom's follow-up question was also a classic of its time, "The Queen of Sheba?" She left no space between the two questions for me to sass her back.

Reading, I wanted to ask the Munro the same question. How dare she expose these flawed country women who were so uncomfortably close to the flawed women I knew? I was very young.

Since her early work, the deft delivery of the discomfort of home truths about the ordinary lives of ordinary women has remained a Munro hallmark. Over time, it grew on me; I began to understand it.

The lives of ordinary women were "not a subject," an Oxford lecturer once told me. Or so she was told by her male colleagues at The New Statesman in the 1960s when she proposed to write a feature on them. Now Alice Munro has been recognized for her unique contribution to literary life.

"Proper thing," some of my ordinary female ancestors would say of Munro's Nobel Prize for Literature. This summation would be punctuated with a crisp nod. I hear those now-dead voices pronouncing on this award, and I feel their comforting solidarity. I couldn't agree more.

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