Attention please: The New York Times’ Arts Beat reports Alice Munro has won one of literature’s most heavy-hitting awards, the International Man Booker Prize. Munro is one Canada’s most celebrated writers, and she’s also a writer’s writer, inspiring the kind of gushing usually exhibited only by Jonas Brothers fans. Jane Smiley says: “Any writer has to gawk when reading her because her work is very subtle and precise. Her thoughtfulness about every subject is so concentrated.” Cynthia Ozick has called Munro “our Chekhov.” Curtis Sittenfeld has also been known to cite Munro from time to time.
The International Man Booker Prize is awarded for lifetime achievement. Born in 1931, Munro’s first story was published in 1968. Her second followed a couple of years later. We had to wonder, did critics see the lifetime achievement potential in Munro back then?
Realist though she is, the author elects to arrive at revelations rather than ironies. Thus, the title story (about a slightly dotty piano teacher staging a disastrous recital for her pupils) holds an unpredictable nugget of truth. The narrator of a couple of the stories is a girl whose father is a silver-fox breeder–and then, when that fails, a patent-medicine salesman. What she finds through trailing along with him are little windows on life, death and some intermediate stages. Sexism has a fresh face in “Boys and Girls” in which the matter of killing an old horse leads to a sudden epiphany. There are two stories about being jilted, funny and bemused. Miss Munro poses more questions than answers — a refreshing strategy.