Plug: Finding validation in the remarkable unremarked

By Jan Plug
October 16, 2013

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MunroIllustration by Frank Neufeld

After reading Alice Munro for the first time, I decided to lend my copy of Dance of the Happy Shades to my mother and then my sister. There is little reason to think either would have read Munro otherwise. In one small southern Ontario town after another, our house was like those around it: I owned copies of Black Beauty and Hansel and Gretel, and the Encyclopedia Brittanica had its place in our living room.

Otherwise, there was hardly a book to be found. In other words, we were more likely to appear as characters in a Munro story than to have read one.

Sure enough, both my mother and my sister found themselves in Munro, one in a girl with a velvet dress, the other in a girl taken for a ride. Such moments are anything but simple, for Munro’s portrayal of small towns — of ‘our’ towns, we say too easily, of ‘my’ people — is unapologetic, unflinching, uncompromising. The honesty of her vision of a sometimes bleak life, of its constraints, its absence of prospect, its violence even, can be overwhelming. 

But this is also the measure of her esteem for that life: never to have looked away, to have fallen prey to sentimentality, for instance.

The Nobel is recognition of nothing but Munro’s work, of course, of no one but Munro herself. Still, perhaps there is no great fault in finding in it some small validation of the unremarked and unremarkable lives Munro records, the girls who leave school to become switchboard operators, the boys whose thumbs are ground to a point in a factory accident.

Maybe the best we can do is to say, in her own words, “Thanks for the ride.”

Jan Plug is a professor in the Department of English and Writing Studies.


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