10 Examples of the Masterful Short Fiction of Alice Munro

Posted on May 15, 2024

by Eric P

Lots of fiction writers create both novels and short stories – think Joyce, Faulkner, Hemingway, Shirley Jackson, John Updike, Stephen King, Lorrie Moore. And maybe it’s because of the way Americans love bigness – I mean, have you seen the size of our sandwiches? – but it seems like it’s longer works that get lionized. Yes, people love “The Body,” but they revere The Stand. How good can your fiction possibly be if it can’t also give you a hernia?

So you gotta love writers who work primarily or entirely at the briefer end of the page count spectrum. Yes, they’re miniaturists, honing with the loving precision of a jeweler the details of something you might be able to read in a doctor’s office waiting room before your appointment starts. But they’re also kind of magicians, packing the vast emotional sweep of human experience into a sliver of their characters’ lives.

And nobody did that better than the Nobel prizewinning Canadian author Alice Munro, who died May 13 at the age of 92. Her stories usually took place within the borders of Huron County, Ontario, and they weren’t exactly heavy on big dramatic incidents. Admirers often compared her genius to Chekhov’s, who often inspired his editors to say things like “Hey Anton, I have an idea: what if something happened?”

But as with Chekhov, the seeming simplicity of Munro’s stories was deceptive, as she deftly manipulated time and structure to lead the reader to a transformative moment of epiphany. Mostly, people recognized the characters in her stories – in the people they knew, and in themselves. Their struggles and disappointments and small victories felt real and instructive in their verisimilitude.

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