This morning I woke and before even getting out of bed I read "Walker Brothers Cowboy" by Alice Munro, one of her stories I'd not read before. It was my little indulgence to celebrate her Nobel Prize win yesterday. A lovely way to start a work day. It's a story, like so many of Munro's stories, about a family, told from the point of view of the daughter. It's mostly about the parents. The family has fallen on hard times as many had at the time it was set in the 1930s. From owning a fox farm, her father was now a door-to-door salesman. Her mother was not taking the fall well. A gentle sadness covers the story. Like so many human stories, it is about dreams lost, braver choices not taken.
The thing so lovely about Munro's stories is that they refuse to cheat with fireworks. She is always honest. She will not pull out a rabbit just because she can. Instead she waits patiently until she discovers the fireworks and rabbits in the simple everyday ups and downs in the ordinary lives of ordinary humans. That's what I always love about her stories, the honesty, the un-showiness. In her stories, she deals with the everyday things, the mundane, the work that must be done before the other things happen.
I was so happy to hear she'd won the Nobel Prize yesterday. Somehow I felt it as a win for me too. A win for everyone who writes and loves short stories. Simple honest short stories that let us understand more fully this experience of living, and loving, and being so fallibly human. Short stories are unique in their ability to capture the essence of a moment in time. They are not short novels. They are not a practice ground. Munro is a virtuoso in using the strengths of the short story to its very limits.
Congratulations, Ms Munro, and thank you.
"A story is not like a road to follow … it's more like a house. You go inside and stay there for a while, wandering back and forth and settling where you like and discovering how the room and corridors relate to each other, how the world outside is altered by being viewed from these windows. And you, the visitor, the reader, are altered as well by being in this enclosed space, whether it is ample and easy or full of crooked turns, or sparsely or opulently furnished. You can go back again and again, and the house, the story, always contains more than you saw the last time. It also has a sturdy sense of itself of being built out of its own necessity, not just to shelter or beguile you.”- Alice Munro