Many writers and editors rejoiced last week when Alice Munro was awarded the Nobel Prize. The Nobel Committee has often chosen lesser known writers with a sharply defined political agenda that at its best illuminates the harsh inequities of living on this planet. The selection of Munro, a writer of short stories, was the choice of an author whose only agenda is illuminating the small Ontario worlds she knows intimately or Toronto, the city where she says that every Canadian ends up at one time or another. We would like to think that this great writer was chosen for the prize because, not only does she give us a panorama of her fictional world, she also gives us a remarkable sense of its emotional and psychological layers.
Munro’s prose is as clear and unaffected as a glass of water. And while it has its artistic intricacies, the phrases and situations that are “classic Munrovian”, are delineated with such sharpness that the experience of reading her becomes highly personal. Even far flung readers with a whole different life experience will surely feel as closely connected to her work as would a reader from North America.
By seamlessly moving back and forth in time during a single narrative, Munro has advanced the technique of writing short fiction. This blending of time only serves to augment the hyper-reality of her work. And with this mastery she arguably surpasses writers like Ray Carver, who will perhaps be known for his marvelous choice of subject matter rather than for his technique.
And yet Munro has been criticized for being too “straight forward” by those who value fictional layers or feel that the reader must work hard intellectually to experience great literature, that profound truth is often veiled in something more arcane and less obvious. But if you think about it, literary critics feel they must interpret literature for those of us who are in their eyes less literate. With straight-forward narrative writing there is nothing to parse. But let it be said that from our point of view, high clarity can equal high literary.
Lastly, although Munro is a Canadian writer revered in the U.S., she would be the first to say that there are many fine Canadian writers who need to be discovered. We published one of them, Alissa York whose novel, Mercy is at once powerful and yet wonderfully restrained.