Alice Munro’s 2012 collection Dear Life offers a riveting meditation on states of perception throughout the life cycle in fictional and autobiographical contexts. Munro reaches beyond the typical adult processing of reality and takes readers into minds either developing or declining. Prominent in the collection are issues of being and consciousness, crucial to ontology and phenomenology respectively, as well as questions of selfhood explored in autobiographical theory. Two fictional stories stand out with regard to perception: the child’s perspective in “Gravel” and the elderly woman’s understanding in “In Sight of the Lake” express visions of reality at two ends of a spectrum. As Munro highlights the mind’s functioning, we understand the limits of youth, the imperfections of memory, and the impact of age. Because these and other stories in the collection evoke the life span, they anticipate the autobiographical finale, or last four stories that close Dear Life. In this dénouement, Munro blurs the boundaries between fact and fiction. Yet her intentional playfulness goes beyond the typical selectivity, exaggeration, and denial that all play a role in composing life stories. The closing sketches culminate in the privileged final piece, fittingly entitled “Dear Life.” By appropriating different versions of life events into “Dear Life,” Munro emphasizes personal agency and the creative process. Echoing the collection title, “Dear Life” takes us back to earlier stories by highlighting the types of cognitive issues raised in “Gravel” and “In Sight of the Lake.” Taken together, these three pieces, along with the author’s preamble to the finale, invite readers to discern multiple forms of insight and to ponder the deliberate ambiguity of Munro’s autobiographical project. In a collection that highlights states of perception throughout the life cycle, this elderly author asserts the primacy of her own perceptions about her life. She has the final word, whether this be truth, fiction, or somewhere in the middle. In her intense interest in character portraits and in her foray into self-portrait, Munro is fascinated by the mechanisms of the mind. We are invited to commune with her characters, consider human nature, and feel the experiences and traumas that shape us. Munro seeks to portray all of this in the young, the old, and those in between.


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pp. 85-101
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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