A Touch of Evil in Carstairs
The morning it was announced that Alice Munro had been awarded the Nobel Prize for literature, I overheard, while standing in line at a coffee shop, several men discussing Munro’s win. It was surprising and unusual, one of them said, for a woman who writes nice little stories about small towns in Ontario to win such a prestigious prize. It wasn’t an unusual comment. Alice Munro is often depicted as “a nice little woman who writes nice little stories” by people who have either not read her, or people who have not bothered to scratch the surface of her stories. The most rewarding aspect of doing so is the extent to which she exposes the human condition through seemingly simple, pared down language. The purity of her style and the succinct narratives of settlers populating small towns and rolling farmland gradually and ingeniously lift the curtain on secrets, fantasies and, ultimately, the confinement and violence found at the heart of the human condition.
Using a combination of third-person and stream-of-consciousness narratives Munro’s stories bring to light what her characters attempt to conceal from others and, more often than not, from themselves. They reveal what is often mean and petty or duplicitous and abject about human nature even when framed within the idyllic and innocent settings of small, Christian communities. While Munro’s stories are told in voices that are on vastly different scales from the mythologies of Typhon, Prometheus, Oedipus or Job, to name but a few,...
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