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Many of Munro's stories are set in Huron County, Ontario. Her strong regional focus is one of the features of her fiction. Another is the omniscient narrator who serves to make sense of the world. Many compare Munro's small-town settings to writers from the rural South of the United States. As in the works of William Faulkner and Flannery O'Connor, her characters often confront deep-rooted customs and traditions, but the reaction of Munro's characters is generally less intense than their Southern counterparts'. Her male characters tend to capture the essence of the everyman, while her female characters are more complex. Much of Munro's work exemplifies the literary genre known as Southern Ontario Gothic.
Munro's work is often compared with the great short-story writers. In her stories, as in Chekhov's, plot is secondary and "little happens." As with Chekhov, Garan Holcombe notes: "All is based on the epiphanic moment, the sudden enlightenment, the concise, subtle, revelatory detail." Munro's work deals with "love and work, and the failings of both. She shares Chekhov's obsession with time and our much-lamented inability to delay or prevent its relentless movement forward."
A frequent theme of her work —particularly evident in her early stories— has been the dilemmas of a girl coming of age and coming to terms with her family and the small town she grew up in. In recent work such as Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage (2001) and Runaway (2004) she has shifted her focus to the travails of middle age, of women alone, and of the elderly. It is a mark of her style for characters to experience a revelation that sheds light on, and gives meaning to, an event.
Munro's prose reveals the ambiguities of life: "ironic and serious at the same time," "mottoes of godliness and honor and flaming bigotry," "special, useless knowledge," "tones of shrill and happy outrage," "the bad taste, the heartlessness, the joy of it." Her style places the fantastic next to the ordinary, with each undercutting the other in ways that simply and effortlessly evoke life. As Robert Thacker has it:
"Munro's writing creates... an empathetic union among readers, critics most apparent among them. We are drawn to her writing by its verisimilitude – not of mimesis, so-called and... 'realism' – but rather the feeling of being itself... of just being a human being."
Many critics have asserted that Munro's stories often have the emotional and literary depth of novels. Some have asked whether Munro actually writes short stories or novels. Alex Keegan, writing in Eclectica, gave a simple answer: "Who cares? In most Munro stories there is as much as in many novels."
Munro's short novels have been compared to those of the Sardinian poet and writer Grazia Deledda, also a Nobel Prize winner (in 1926).
- Early life
- Writing style
- Personal life
- Selected awards and honours
- Notes and references
- Further reading