Alice Munro is one of Canada’s major writers and one of the best short-story writers anywhere. While she tried writing a novel with Lives of Girls and Women, her preferred form is the short story. She argues that a novel implies a continuity that is not mirrored in the lives of real people, who seem to move disjointedly from one experience to another. With the short story she can focus on the “intense . . . moments of experience” that constitute a life. With the exception of one novel, all of her published works have been collections of short stories.
The majority of Alice Munro’s stories are set in Canada, often in southwest Ontario, now sometimes called “Munro Country,” the region of her childhood. Her hometown of Wingham, Ontario, becomes Hanratty in Who Do You Think You Are?, Dalgleish in The Moons of Jupiter, or Jubilee in Lives of Girls and Women. The rural countryside, the poverty-stricken small towns, the farms, and the salt mines are well documented, as is the Canadian climate, which can be bleak, dark, and foreboding with its bitter cold, its snowstorms, and its ice. Even though some stories might be set in Victoria or Toronto, generally the protagonist has moved to the city and still retains some provincialism. Similarly with the stories set in Australia or Scotland, the protagonist is Canadian and comes into these new environments with Canadian eyes. In all of Munro’s stories, the reader gets a clear sense of place, whether the story is set in the Canada of today, of a hundred years ago, or of somewhere in between. In many cases the past and the present are juxtaposed so that there is a sense in which the past, though distant, is always present.