Nobelist Alice Munro

Much of the news recently has been dire, but in the midst of all this came the Nobel Prize announcements, many to people associated with Stanford (two laureates currently on the Stanford faculty: Thomas Südhof in Physiology or Medicine and Michael Levitt in Chemistry). And then there’s the wonderful news that Alice Munro is the laureate in Literature.

From Michiko Kakutani’s piece in the NYT yesterday, “Master of the Intricacies of the Human Heart: Alice Munro, Nobel Winner, Mines the Inner Lives of Girls and Women”:

Alice Munro, named on Thursday as the winner of the 2013 Nobel Prize in Literature, once observed: “The complexity of things — the things within things — just seems to be endless. I mean nothing is easy, nothing is simple.”

That is also a perfect description of Ms. Munro’s quietly radiant short stories — stories that have established her as one of the foremost practitioners of the form. Set largely in small-town and rural Canada and often focused on the lives of girls and women, her tales have the swoop and density of big, intimate novels, mapping the crevices of characters’ hearts with cleareyed Chekhovian empathy and wisdom.

Fluent and deceptively artless on the page, these stories are actually amazingly intricate constructions that move back and forth in time, back and forth between reality and memory, opening out, magically, to disclose the long panoramic vistas in these people’s lives (the starts, stops and reversals that stand out as hinge moments in their personal histories) and the homely details of their day-to-day routines: the dull coping with “food and mess and houses” that can take up so much of their heroines’ time.

Ms. Munro’s stories possess an emotional amplitude and a psychological density that stand in sharp contrast to the minimalistic work of Raymond Carver, and to Donald Barthelme’s playful, postmodernist tales.

Truly luminous writing, but as Kakutani says, deceptively artless on the page. I’ve admired her stories for years.


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