Alice Monro speaks with the voice of a classic storyteller. Her tales unwind with a realism and simplicity, a naturalness of language, that belie their depth. Set primarily in small Ontario towns, they tell of people moving through quotidian crises—rejection, betrayal, dislocation, death. A woman who succumbs to an illicit sexual impulse. A child who has perhaps indulged in a fatal demand for attention. People who have trouble connecting—a man who moves whenever he finds himself slipping into a relationship, an elderly woman slipping unawares into dementia.
The last stories in the collection are a special gift to Monro’s fans. The author describes these last four tales as “not quite stories. They form a separate unit,” she says, “that is autobiographical in feeling, though not, sometimes, entirely so in fact. I believe they are the first and last—and the closest—things I have to say about my own life.” And like her other stories, they are often set against a gray and chilly backdrop and portray ordinary people confronting the sorts of ordinary struggles that can overwhelm us.
Life is a mystery to most of Alice Monro’s characters. Some hold it dear; others pay dearly for it. The stories in Dear Life not of triumph over adversity, but of resilience in the face of the power of everyday life to crush us, and therein lie their hope and beauty.