Alice Munro pinpoints the moment a person is forever altered by a chance encounter, an action not taken, or a simple twist of fate. Her characters are flawed and fully human: a soldier returning from war and avoiding his fiancée, a wealthy woman deciding whether to confront a blackmailer, an adulterous mother and her neglected children, a guilt-ridden father, a young teacher jilted by her employer. These lives draw us in with their quiet depth and surprise us with unexpected turns.
At the end of Dear Life is a suite of four stories that Munro says are 'autobiographical in feeling, though not, sometimes, entirely so in fact' ... They seem to me as good as anything she has ever done, but also to strike out in the direction of a new, late style — one that is not so much a departure as a compressing or summing up of her whole career ... As is so often the case now in Munro’s fiction, the drama sneaks up and then slips past almost before you’re aware of it. The descriptions are, even by Munro standards, precise and economical, and the mood is less angry or sorrowful than merely accepting ... Many of these stories are told in Munro’s now familiar and much remarked on style, in which chronology is upended and the narrative is apt to begin at the end and end in the middle ... Munro is among the least fanciful of short story writers, seldom resorting to an image or a metaphor. This may reflect a lifelong habit of Canadian understatement — a suspicion of cleverness and a resistance to making too much of things — but it also accords with a sense in her fiction that the world is strange enough, without need of embellishment.
Her 14 stories are so fluid and close to the mystery of life that reading them is like being inside the mind of a writer as she creates, shaping language within her spacious imagination, suffusing words with empathy, darting in unexpected directions before she reveals a final mysterious truth ... Munro begins her stories in surprising places, usually in the midst of the action. It is a measure of the restless energy of these tales that several start on trains ... Munro writes about ordinary people dealing with confusions, failures, and sustained visions of what might have been; she skewers the narrow-minded and creates lasting portraits of the neglected and forlorn, unveiling their secrets with delicate grace ... Dear Life is a wondrous gift; a reminder of why Munro’s work endures.
In Dear Life, she shows no sign of running out of material nor any sloppiness toward the form she has so gracefully deployed for almost half a century. The book is more, however, than just the latest evidence of her excellence. Munro offers something striking in Dear Life: a distinct turn to autobiography and a revealing window into the workings of her mind ... The 'not quite stories' are more like meditations on memory and analyses of the act of storytelling than biographical sketches. Reading these stories will tell you something about Alice Munro’s life, but it will tell you more about Alice Munro’s mind—and, not entirely surprisingly, this proves to be even more compelling ... Even when she is hewing close to personal history, she is conscious of the particular kind of truth required by fiction—perfect pitch and proportion, and perhaps less verisimilitude.