Alice Munro’s Open Secrets

Open SecretsCanada’s international literary reputation rests on precious few writers: Margaret Atwood, Robertson Davies, Mordecai Richler, Michael Ondaatje, Yann Martel and Alice Munro make up the small handful whose reach extends beyond our borders. How fortunate for us, then, that this year’s Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded to Alice Munro.

Open Secrets explores life in rural Canada: the taboos and mores, the suppressed desires and disappointments. Munro delights in pulling back the thin veneer of even the most mundane public lives in order to reveal the passions that inform them, and she does it with little concern for chronology, often taking twenty pages to describe the events of a single day before summing up the next 50 year’s of a character’s life in a paragraph, or jumping back in time to give another character’s perspective on a pivotal moment. These are definite no-no’s in fiction writing, in much the same way that crossing the axis of action in film is a no-no: not so much because it cannot ever be done profitably, but because few possess the requisite skill to do anything but muddy the narrative. Munro is a startling and defiant exception.

The drama of Munro’s narratives is understated, to say the least, generated by a look or a rumor, but the stories are compelling, never boring, and her skill is such that the results seem embarrassingly effortless.