- Alice Munro's Miraculous Art. Critical Essays ed. by Janice Fiamengo and Gerald Lynch
Alice Munro's Miraculous Art, edited by Janice Fiamengo and Gerald Lynch, is a stimulating collection. It gathers essays written by some well-established (if not devoted) Munro critics such as Beran, Blodgett, Cox, May, and Redekop and by other academics who are starting to engage with her work. The essays were originally presented at the Alice Munro Symposium held in May 2014 at the University of Ottawa. The volume opens with an introduction by the editors followed by an essay in which Robert Thacker compares the Canadian short-story writer's life and work. It is then divided into three parts. Magdalene Redekop's inspiring rereading of "Lichen" appears as a separate coda, or "Envoi."
"Forms," the first section, comprises five chapters. It begins with Charles May's powerful essay, "Living in the Story," in which he tackles the essence of Munro's art of writing short stories. May ponders on the following crucial questions: "Are the laws of short stories different than the laws of novels?"; "Do short stories create a sense of character and character [End Page 113] motivation that are different than in novels?" (58). His contention is that with Munro, character behaviour is not determined by psychology but by the "thematic demands of her story world" (54) such as storytelling, getting lost in reading, and acting like characters in fiction. This stance enables him to examine recent stories, including "Corrie" (2012), which has puzzled many a reader. May argues that Corrie's actions cannot be interpreted as if she were a character in a novel, whose behaviour could be explained. May powerfully demonstrates that the difference between stories and novels has little to do with length. He concludes that Munro's stories "create a scary sense that what happens is not as important as what it signifies" (59). In other words, they create "a shock of recognition" (59) as readers realize how little they know about the people they thought they knew. Laurie Kruk then examines Munro's Lives of Girls and Women (1971) along with Carol Shield's "Scenes" (1985), viewing them as a "shared project of sketching a female Bildungsroman as short-story cycle" (65). As for Sara Jamieson's essay, it starts with the practice of recitation in Canadian schools and then considers the circulation of remembered and recited poetry in Munro's stories. Maria Löschnigg's perceptive essay, "Carried Away by Letters: Alice Munro and the Epistolary Mode," analyzes three stories: "Carried Away" (1994), "Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage" (2001), and "Dimensions" (2009). Löschnigg argues that the letters can be seen as miniature stories within stories. They reveal the construction of "idealized imaginaries" (101). Thus, the epistolary exchange is a strategy Munro uses in order to "render the construction of fantasies visible" (105), to make the extraordinary "transmittable and comprehensible" (112), and to convey the "extraordinary imaginaries" (113) she creates in an intriguing manner. Löschnigg's essay also sheds light on other stories since, as she points out, twenty-two Munro stories contain letters. The first section ends with an essay by Tina Trigg. She reads Munro's twelfth collection, The View from Castle Rock (2006), as a short-story cycle.
The second section shifts to "Themes" and contains five chapters. It opens with a reading of Munro's first stories, which she published in 1950 and 1951 in Folio, a student magazine at the University of Western Ontario. For D.M.R. Bentley, these stories not only bear the imprint of writers such as James Joyce and D.H. Lawrence but also reflect psychoanalytical theories. Tracy Ware then compares two stories that feature a very similar male character and marital situation. Ware contends that "Jakarta" (1998) is a better story than "Mischief" (1978) because Munro "has learned" that including the male character's perspective makes for a better story (170). "Themes" ends with Josephene Kealey's essay on religion in "Wild Swans" [End Page 114] (1978) and Lives of...