Alice Munro Says She Is Probably Done Writing

Brow Beat
Slate's Culture Blog
June 19 2013 3:27 PM

Alice Munro Says She Is Probably Done Writing

Alice Munro in 2009

Photo by PETER MUHLY/AFP/Getty Images

On Tuesday, the writer Alice Munro won Ontario’s Trillium Book Award for her latest, Dear Life. Then, in a genial interview with the Canadian National Post books editor, this happened:

Post: You’ve spoken about how Dear Life is the most autobiographical book you’ve ever written, especially those last four stories. Does this make winning more special?
Munro: I guess so. And a little more special in that I’m probably not going to write anymore. And, so, it’s nice to go out with a bang.

How many bangs are in that bang! She meant the award, certainly, but just as easily she might have been referring to what may now be her final story, the titular “Dear Life,” which closes the book, and which, fascinatingly for Munro-watchers, had been filed under the nonfiction heading “Personal History” on its initial appearance in The New Yorker, in 2011—and which left me, upon first reading, sitting still with the magazine on my lap for half an hour, my mind processing, processing, like an old IBM trying to churn large primes.

Bang. That’s the appropriate response to Munro’s best work, in which even the experience of revelation—what truths from the past can be discerned and which can’t, what lies can be discarded and which must be held forever—becomes a puzzle, a hall of mirrors. I return again and again to the story “Family Furnishings,” in which a woman determined to forge her own way learns—oh, it’s too much to say what she learns, or what we learn. It’s always too much. But one line in particular I carry with me, a line that comes when the narrator realizes that a new bit of knowledge is about to arrive, whether she likes it or not: “Now. I could feel it coming now.” My brain stem quivers every time. Barely stylized—just that little repetition of now—it is, in context, as chilling as the climax of a horror film. Wisdom delivered like a knife to the chest.

And now this final bang: that there may be no more Munro stories. But I’m OK with it—more so, I’m surprised to say, than the similar report of Philip Roth putting down his pen. (Roth is 80, Munro 81.) It’s hard to explain. With Munro—and this may have to do with her focus on short stories—even if she writes no more, I feel like she has already provided everything we could ever want from her, and that what’s left is my effort to unfold and unfold the papered-over minds of her characters, minds that unfailingly turn out to be my own.

Fiction in the realist mode is too often described as having characters and events that are “lifelike,” or “that feel real,” or “come off the page.” There is no “like”-ness when it comes to Munro. Only the real thing.

Lowen Liu is Slate's copy chief and the editor of Dear Prudence.



Smash and Grab

Will competitive Senate contests in Kansas and South Dakota lead to more late-breaking races in future elections?

Stop Panicking. America Is Now in Very Good Shape to Respond to the Ebola Crisis.

The 2014 Kansas City Royals Show the Value of Building a Mediocre Baseball Team

The GOP Won’t Win Any Black Votes With Its New “Willie Horton” Ad

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?


Forget Oculus Rift

This $25 cardboard box turns your phone into an incredibly fun virtual reality experience.

One of Putin’s Favorite Oligarchs Wants to Start an Orthodox Christian Fox News

These Companies in Japan Are More Than 1,000 Years Old

Trending News Channel
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM Watch Flashes of Lightning Created in a Lab  
  News & Politics
The World
Oct. 20 2014 1:50 PM Why We Shouldn’t Be Too Sure About the Supposed Deal to Return the Abducted Nigerian Schoolgirls
Oct. 20 2014 7:23 PM Chipotle’s Magical Burrito Empire Keeps Growing, Might Be Slowing
Dear Prudence
Oct. 20 2014 3:12 PM Terror Next Door Prudie advises a letter writer whose husband is dangerously, violently obsessed with the neighbors.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 20 2014 1:10 PM Women Are Still Losing Jobs for Getting Pregnant
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 20 2014 7:15 AM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 9 A spoiler-filled discussion of "Flatline."
Brow Beat
Oct. 20 2014 9:13 PM The Smart, Talented, and Utterly Hilarious Leslie Jones Is SNL’s Newest Cast Member
Future Tense
Oct. 20 2014 4:59 PM Canadian Town Cancels Outdoor Halloween Because Polar Bears
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Oct. 20 2014 11:46 AM Is Anybody Watching My Do-Gooding? The difference between being a hero and being an altruist.
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.