I was so glad when I heard that Alice Munro won the Nobel Prize. 1st Canadian to win it, but also (still only) 13th woman. I’ve noticed that some of my favorite authors are Canadian women, like the late Carol Shields and Margaret Atwood, who also write fine short stories . I’ve only discovered them in the last 4 years and I can trace my becoming more conscious of the (female) fool’s journey reading these female Canadian authors.
In the short interview below, Nobel price Alice Munro, 82, embodies the grace, humility, innocence and humor the fool archetype displays, as I imagine it, coming full/fool circle with this consecration :
– What’s the upside to win an award like this
– A M: it’s all upside it really is… It’s totally unexpected, It means that you have a lot of appreciation out there and to a writer it’s always a bit of a surprise…no downside at all … no no no it’s all fun
: just keep reading
– What are your plans now?
– A M I’m gonna have lunch
– …another book…
– A M: I have no idea… I’m pretty old you know… another book possibly, you never know with these things…
-How old are?(rude)
– A M: I’m not gonna tell you…(more teasing than coquettish)
– Any plans for the money
– A M: No … No I’ll no doubt figure somehow…
The Short Story: Less is More
I have to admit that she had a challenger of weight with Murakami, 64, with his often lengthy, dense novels . Oh My!… But I was thinking, when Munro got the Nobel, more than her winning it, it’s the short story genre that is getting its Lettres de Noblesse. I have to confess that I hardly ever read novels anymore, except reread my favorite ones. By the way, Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore was my last one to this day and I will probably read it again, in spite of its 480 odd pages. A question of resonance, I believe.
Munro has been compared to Chekhov, a master at short story writing. I find her winning the Nobel one more reason to rejoice because her prestigious prize represents an encouragement for the writer of short stories. That’s it! Short stories are not second rate anymore ! Are they only for the budding writer cutting her teeth until s/he’s built enough experience to sustain the stretch of a novel ? This would be misunderstanding the short story genre altogether, more akin to poetry than the novel: its obsessive demand for finding the ‘right’ word, the right closest rendering of feeling where wo/man may recognize her/himself.
In the above interview, Munro talks about ‘appreciation’ . I was surprised at the word choice, modest, a bit ‘provincial’, like her characters. I could only, at first, derive from it definition 2 (below). She could have said ‘recognition’ But again Munro, with her power of synthesis, reflected in this one word, which encapsulates, of course, what her experience with getting the prize feels like, but also her entire career as a writer and, especially, a writer of short stories in general, the long journey to get to this point and even more : her art, in particular, where the provincial confines to the universal.
The Fool: the Art of Loosing Isn’t Hard to Master
I’ve just finished Post and Beam in the collection Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage, totally unawares of Munro’s actuality. The last sentence is a Jewel of irony and pessimism weaved with tenderness and compassion for a young female character when she was still ‘new to the art of bargaining’ :
It was a long time ago that this happened. In North Vancouver, when they lived in the Post and Beam house. When she was twenty-four years old, and new to bargaining.
I can’t help making a connection with bishop’s poem ‘One Art’:
The art of losing isn't hard to master; so many things seem filled with the intent to be lost that their loss is no disaster. Lose something every day. Accept the fluster of lost door keys, the hour badly spent. The art of losing isn't hard to master. Then practice losing farther, losing faster: places, and names, and where it was you meant to travel. None of these will bring disaster. I lost my mother's watch. And look! my last, or next-to-last, of three loved houses went. The art of losing isn't hard to master. I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster, some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent. I miss them, but it wasn't a disaster. —Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture I love) I shan't have lied. It's evident the art of losing's not too hard to master though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.
Reading short stories is being engaged in a process of connecting with our treasure trove of images, memories and feelings. No page turner: there are not that many pages to turn. It means pay attention. I know it will sound ridiculous, but it can take me longer to read a short story than a novel, because I need to reread and digest and a.p.p.r.e.c.i.a.t.e.
Munro has this capacity of synthesizing an entire life or a complete fool’s cycle in a character’s life, with such poignancy and economy that her stories have, I’ll go as far as to write, the capacity to make you go or keep you on your” fool’s journey” with trust and confidence even after surviving the pangs of disappointment, betrayal, loneliness and even despair . Her characters have figured somehow or will. No doubt.
Today’s Fool’s Message
Now, any budding writer who has entertained the idea that, because s/he has only short stories to show, no novel, therefore it means that she can’t keep the distance; has no excuse anymore, including me (maybe the downside). There is ‘appreciation’ for the short story genre, Munro’s Nobel prize is now testimony to that.
Keep reading indeed, especially short stories, and keep writing short stories with Munro as a consummate model of the genre.