Carried Away: A Personal Selection of Stories by Alice Munro, introduction by Margaret Atwood; Everyman’s Library, 559 pages, $26. This year’s Nobel Prize in Literature to Alice Munro made almost everyone happy. The recalcitrant Swedish academics – whose open hostility to American writers was revealed by one judge’s indiscreet comments years ago – could continue telling themselves that somehow navel-gazing American writers were bypassed again because they were unprepared to enter the “larger discussions” of world literature. That’s despite the fact that their own selections in the Nobel citations often oafishly rewrote previous pieces by the eminently American John Updike.
Munro, after all, is a Canadian, not an American. We south of the border Americans, after all, of course, understand that Munro, as a writer, has had most of her important literary success (including constant appearances in the New Yorker) on our side of the border.
Those of us who were utterly astounded that the Nobel selection process decades ago somehow found a way to evade Jorge Luis Borges could register with Munro more than a little satisfaction that here was a Nobel Prize winner known as a master of a short form – the short story to be specific – much like Borges, who never wrote anything important longer than 50 pages. The only drawback to a Nobel Prize for literature given to Alice Munro is that it left a lot of readers a bit at sea about where to begin reading such a great living writer.
Here, finally, is the perfect starting place for those who want and need one – the reissued 2006 anthology in which the writer herself selected what she thought best, at the time, in her life work. The introduction was written by Margaret Atwoood, the Canadian writer who, before Munro won the prize, was considered the Canadian Most Likely to do so.
Of her literary sister, Atwood writers inarguably “Alice Munro is among the major writers of English fiction in our time … Among writers themselves, her name is spoken in hushed tones… She’s the kind of writer about whom it is often said – no matter how well known she becomes –that she ought to be better known.” No more. Here, in one volume, is why. – Jeff Simon