The Genuineness of Alice Munro’s Stories

My fall literature class for Seniors College is three weeks in and we have five short weeks to go. So far, we have read and analyzed three of Alice Munro’s short stories. When we began, half the class knew of Alice Munro, the other half barely knew her, had only heard of hear, or did not know her at all. Of the half that knew her, they had read a bit of her but could not remember much of what they had read or had not read enough to form an opinion of her. Many times, we read literary works—in this case, short stories—and either like them or don’t like them. Unless we look more deeply into those works, we are unable to create an honest, informed opinion about them. At most, we might say we liked the works because they were interesting or entertaining, or we didn’t like the works because of the exact opposite—we thought them boring or uninteresting. The point with classics and works by acknowledged literary giants is that there is more to them than just mere entertainment or surface interest. That would apply to nearly every book in national and international bestseller lists. When does a literary work climb from being a bestseller to a classic, besides being a bestseller year after year, decade after decade, century after century? What is it that prize committees look for in works that earn their authors accolades and the status of laureate? Probably the most important quality a great literary work has is genuineness. Not impeccable grammar or perfect form. Not even masterful sentences or brilliant plots. This is where I bring around Alice Munro’s writing. The one thing that stands out in all her works is genuineness. Her stories are populated by genuine people, characters we can easily and quickly identify with, dealing with situations and problems we have all encountered or dealt with at one time or another. Her characters live real lives in a familiar world and, like many of us do, live mundane lives of quiet desperation or struggle through daily routines and encounters as heroically as they can. She makes readers see there can be pleasure and happiness in the littlest things, despite the hardships we face on a daily basis. She opens our eyes to the ideas, practices, and beliefs that define our behavior and affect our relationships. She reminds us that sometimes, we cannot change who we are, especially when we aren’t aware of why we think, act, or feel the way we do about what happens to us, what we do, or who we interact with. She points a spotlight on relationships in every imaginable form and makes us think about our relationships, how we live our lives, what we do, what motivates us—because it is exactly what motivates her characters and makes them think, feel, and do what they do.

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