As I have mentioned/disclosed, I am not a fan of reading fiction. After far too many years in university, reading just seems entirely wrapped up in reality or at least attempts to interpret reality. But I have been attempting to re-learn how to “read for leisure” and most people seem to not accept my non-fiction reading as fully leisureful.
With my last book club group, after reading several fiction novels suggested by the other women, it occurred to me that perhaps I should attempt reading short stories. Something I noticed from book club talks was that while the others didn’t like when parts of a storyline were left unfinished or ambiguous, those were the parts I enjoyed. I enjoy when an author is able to engage me to co-create the story with them. I do not like being passively fed a story. Imagination, when reading is more satisfying when I am trying to imagine what might happen or what might have happened leading up to this moment. And, I’m ok if I never find out if my imagined story is the same as the author’s.
I was describing this to a colleague the other day and really appreciated his comment: “That takes a real degree of trust on behalf of the author to open their work up like that.” It made me recognize that it is something I value strongly in the creative realm. I’m a big proponent of Creative Commons and in my own work strive to engage others in a way that encourages them to make it their own.
While reading Dear Life by Alice Munro, I think I started to get a hint of what I was looking for. Not quite there. Some of the stories were left more open ended than others. Some I found felt like a forced ending or punch line ruined the fluidity. I like the idea of just popping in to some fictional character’s life for a random set amount of time. Things happened before, things will happen after. You just see enough to be intrigued and maybe a little invested and maybe could continue to care less.
But, I do think I succeeded in reading with leisure. I don’t feel I could make any significant grand-scheme observations about Munro’s writing style or the effectiveness of portraying Canadiana and the Canadian experience – though I am tempted to and feel there are seedlings of thoughts taking root. Mostly, I felt like the stories were little escapes that I wandered into and seemed connected to only to realize the next day that I remembered little other than having enjoyed reading.
That said, I seem to have a threshold for “just enjoying” a book and I was starting to get tired of it and thought I might just skip the rest. Fortunately, that was when I hit the Finale:
The final four works in this book are not quite stories. They form a separate unit, one 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.
Reading through these last four works, suddenly vague images of the previous stories started to reappear in my mind. I’ve held back my desire to further develop the connections between the people she describes and the characters she invented. I get excited when my mind starts trying to connect all the pieces like that. Perhaps some day when I’m not looking for a leisurely read, I will re-read the fiction parts of the book with the non(semi)-fiction parts in mind.
And even further away, on another hillside, was another house, quite small at that distance, facing ours, that we would never visit or know and that was to me like a dwarf’s house in a story. But we knew the name of the man who lived there, or had lived there at one time, for he might have died by now. Roly Grain, his name was, and he does not have any further part in what I’m writing now, in spite of his troll’s name, because this is not a story, only life.
You would think that this was just too much. The business gone, my mother’s health going. It wouldn’t do in fiction.
Finally, as a point of interest and curiosity that I’d like to put out to you;
What were your impressions of Canada and Canadian life as alluded to in many of the stories?
As I mentioned when I announced the book, I thought suggesting a Canadian author an appropriate choice for an international book club. I’ve had far too many courses in reading and interpreting Canadian content that I wonder how the rest of the world sees it, if they do at all.
Please feel free to add your comments below, OR if you post on your blog, make sure to link back to this post so I can direct the rest of the book club your way!