Thursday, April 18, 2013

Dear Life

It seems to me that people say fiction is dead a lot. When I hear or read that negative fact stated, the first thing I always wonder is how they work their way around the existence of Alice Munro? Her new book – and she says it will be her last – is called Dear Life.

The first of her books that fell into my hands was called The Beggar Maid. I read it in graduate school (for fun, when I should have been reading something entirely different for class, no doubt) more than thirty years ago. It was her fourth book (as I see from the list inside this current one, which is her fourteenth – not counting numerous 'collections' and 'selections'). It feels as if I have kept reading her all my life, based on the sheer astonishment of that original encounter. There has been a new Alice Munro every three or four years ever since, and I do not like the future without the prospect of that reliable miracle at regular intervals.  

From a recent interview with Munro by Lisa Dickler Awano in the Virginia Quarterly Review 

In the story "Dear Life," you use the idea of renovating a house in connection with the workings of memory. Can you talk about how you think about the nature of memory?

It's interesting what happens as you get older because memory does become more vivid, particularly distant memory. But I don't try at all with memory, it's just there all the time, and I don't know if I write about it more than I used to. Certainly the "Finale" stories are a conscious working with memory, and I haven't done that very often because I think if you're really going to write seriously about your parents, your childhood, you have to be as honest as you can, you have to think about what really happened, rather than what story your memory dishes up to you. But of course you never can do that, so at least you've got to say, "Well, this is my side of the story – this is what I remember."

You've said to me sometimes that we keep repeating things that are difficult until we work through them.

I think that's particularly true probably of early childhood memories. And there's always an attempt being made to work through them. But what does "work through" mean? It means that they don't hurt anymore? That you've thought them through and have what you think is a fair idea of what was going on? But you never write about that. You have children. When they write their story of their childhood, it's still going to be just their story, and the "you" in it is going to be a "you" that you maybe wouldn't recognize. And this is why I think you have to acknowledge that the story that makes the most honorable effort is still not going to get at everybody's truth. But the effort is worthy.

If you're a writer, you're sort of spending your life trying to figure things out, and you put your figurings on paper, and other people read them. It's a very odd thing, really.

You do this your whole life, and yet you know that you fail. You don't fail all the way, or anything, it's still worth doing I think it's worth doing, anyway. But it's like this coming to grips with things that you can only partially deal with.

This sounds very hopeless. I don't feel hopeless at all.