I like to look out the window. I have spent freely so much of my time doing this, and sometimes it strikes me how little I know of the various things other people can do. I can’t play bridge. I don’t play tennis. All those things that people learn, and I admire, there hasn’t seemed time for. But what there is time for is looking out the window.
― Alice Munro in the interviewed by Alice Quinn in The New Yorker
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, Selected Stories, 1968-1994
I began to understand that there were certain talkers–certain girls–whom people liked to listen to, not because of what they, the girls, had to say, but because of the delight they took in saying it. A delight in themselves, a shine on their faces, a conviction that whatever they were telling about was remarkable and that they themselves could not help but give pleasure. There might be other people–people like me–who didn’t concede this, but that was their loss. And people like me would never be the audience these girls were after, anyway.
― Alice Munro, Too Much Happiness
They were all in their early thirties. An age at which it is sometimes hard to admit that what you are living is your life.
― Alice Munro, from The Moons of Jupiter
…knowing for certain that she had only gone to buy milk and eggs and butter and bread and other supplies–even cigarettes–that were necessary for a decent life, and that she would come back and be busy downstairs and that the sound of her activity would be like a net beneath him, heaven-sent, a bounty not to be questioned.
–Alice Munro, Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage page 394
As long as you’re reading Munro, you’re failing to multitask by absorbing civics lessons or historical data. Her subject is people. People people people. If you read fiction about some enriching subject like Renaissance art or an important chapter in our nation’s history, you can be assured of feeling productive. But if the story is set in the modern world, and if the characters’ concerns are familiar to you, and if you become so involved with a book that you can’t put it down at bedtime, there exists a risk that you’re merely being entertained.
Meanwhile, as her narrative ambitions have grown, she’s become ever less interested in showing off…as her stories have come to resemble classical tragedies in prose form, it’s not only as if she no longer has room for inessentials, it’s as if it would be actively jarring, mood-puncturing — an aesthetic and moral betrayal — for her writerly ego to intrude on the pure story.
Can a better kind of fiction save the world? There’s always some tiny hope (strange things do happen), but the answer is almost certainly no, it can’t. There is some reasonable chance, however, that it could save your soul. If you’re unhappy about the hatred that’s been unleashed in your heart, you might try imagining what it’s like to be the person who hates you; you might consider the possibility that you are, in fact, the Evil One yourself; and, if this is difficult to imagine, then you might try spending a few evenings with the most dubious of Canadians.
–from a review of Alice Munro’s Runaway, written by Jonathan Franzen