Alice Munro's Women

Interesting article from The New Republic’s new literary site The Book (truly inspired name), which I’m sure everybody has heard about by now.

In the flurry of accolades that invariably accompany a new publication by Munro—it is now a cliché to compare her to Chekhov—one can easily lose sight of the fact that her fiction (quite unlike that of the great Russian master, incidentally) focuses almost exclusively on “the lives of girls and women,” as the title of her lone novel put it. This is not necessarily a flaw, but it is worth examining what exactly makes women the subject of her concentrated attention, and what this focus says about where they stand in the world according to Munro. Women’s lives, it seems to me, are more interesting to Munro than the lives of men because they are messier—not simply more difficult (though certain wry remarks here and there remind us of the social and political conditions that do often conspire to make women’s lives more difficult than men’s), but more inclined to chaos, and more demanding of the development of a certain sort of ingenuity to manage that chaos. “How terrible is the lot of women,” muses Sophia Kovalevsky, watching a mother with an injured child on a train, and thinking of her own fight for her place as a female mathematician; and if this statement is too black-and-white to be acceptable as a maxim for the other stories in this volume, most of them populated by characters who are, at the very least, comfortable and well fed, it nonetheless has a certain relevance to their lives.

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