Something I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You: Thirteen Stories, Alice Munro 1974
Munro, the winner of the Mann Booker Prize for lifetime achievement and the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2013, wrote this book of short stories in 1974, only her third collection at the time. As foretold in the title of her other early work, Lives of Girls and Women, these stories are all about women—sisters, mothers, aunts, grandmothers, friends–and how those relationships can span the spectrum from life-saving and fulfilling to destructive, petty, and benumbing. The settings are, as in Munro’s other works, Canada from the Ottawa Valley in Ontario to Vancouver. The stories are characterized by looking back, reassessing lives and incidents, and by an attempt to understand how these positive and/or negative influences came to be. Birth order, illness, divorce, poverty and the other determinants of how a life will unfold are explored and dissected through the vehicle of the short story. I happened upon this volume on the shelves of our daughter’s library in D.C. and grateful for it. I hadn’t read Munro in many years and I now am more aware of why she merited the Nobel. The topic of women’s lives and the barriers to fullness and fulfillment is a particularly important topic these days in the wake of the #MeToo movement, Elizabeth Warren’s failed bid for the presidency, the threats to Roe v. Wade, and the renewed push for equal opportunity. Reading Munro would be a good start for men as well as women.
As an aside, the image of the book cover that was available for me to copy from Amazon (the source of all my book cover images) has once again left me no choice despite the gap between the modern cover with its hint of Hollywood and its gold-medallion Nobel Prize and the cover of the book I read, a 1974 paperback published by the Penguin Group and featuring a tasteful scene from a breakfast table superimposed on a lovely blue/turquoise background with a quote from the New York Times Book Review. Alas, publishing has gone the gaudy, eye-catching route of the rest of our culture.