How To Write Like Alice Munro

Alice_Munro

Of course, no one but Alice Munro can write like Alice Munro. That is my disclaimer on each of my sporadic series of ‘How To Write Like…’ posts.

GENERAL NOTES ON ALICE MUNRO’S SHORT FICTION

Munro’s stories have grown more complex as she has grown older. Later stories are sometimes a more complex take on an earlier one.

Munro’s stories don’t cohere in the same way as chapters in a novel but together they form a unified work of art. Short stories may do a better job of highlighting certain aspects of her work than novels would have.

Something from page three will come and hit you on page thirty, but you had not registered the matter when you first read page three.

New Yorker fiction editor Deborah Treisman

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Tricks by Alice Munro

green shirt dresses

Ah, I have a soft spot for short stories about spinsters about town, enjoying their passions in solitary fashion. “Tricks” by Alice Munro calls to mind Katherine Mansfield’s “Miss Brill”, especially after mention of the symbolic scarf: Miss Brill, you may recall, wears a fur. Robin of Munro’s story “Tricks” does not; she is instead disturbed by someone else’s fox scarf in the Lost and Found. If storyworlds could collide and time elide, I imagine that ‘disgusting-looking brownish fox scarf’ was left there by Miss Brill herself. (That fur had never been the same, of course, after having her fashion choice dissed by strangers at the park.)

Like Miss Brill, Robin finds herself permanently unpartnered. Continue reading “Tricks by Alice Munro”

Powers by Alice Munro

abandoned hospital powers_1000x666

“Powers” is the final story in the Runaway collection by Alice Munro, published 2004. I find this story the most challenging of the lot — as in, what in holy heck was that all about? I’m going to have to write about “Powers” in order to understand it.

Here goes my best shot. What can we learn about storytelling from this novella? About life?

If this is not an easy story to read, nor was it an easy story to write. This from her editor:

On her own, Alice did eight revisions of “Powers”. Then we worked on that ending because it was hard to finish off the story part of it and give Nancy her due.

An Appreciation Of Alice Munro

The New York Times reviewer did not consider “Powers” a success:

“Powers” devolves into a melodramatic tale about a provincial Canadian woman, blessed or cursed with psychic abilities, and her exploitation by a charming but feckless man on the make.

NYT

‘Melodramatic’ is an unusual word to ascribe to Alice Munro — a decidedly realist writer. Why would they have said that? I put it to you that this story is melodramatic if read at a more literal level. My own interpretation is highly metaphorical, as in, I don’t think Ollie is a real person. I think he’s a creation of Nancy’s imagination.

Hear me out. Continue reading “Powers by Alice Munro”

Trespasses by Alice Munro

“Trespasses” is a short story by Canadian author Alice Munro, included in the collection Runaway, published 2006.

This piece might challenge everything you’ve learned about how to structure a story. All the parts are there, but not as you’d expect. If Alice Munro had anonymously joined one of my writing critique groups over the years, she may well have been given the following notes:

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