I read this book for a readers' group here in Bordeaux and it occurred to me that it would not be a bad idea to review the books we read on the blog.
"Dear Life" is a book of short stories from Alice Munro, Nobel prize winner, who a kind of specialist. I really like short stories because of the discipline and artistry necessary to encapsulate a life, a landscape, history, into just a few pages. Incidentally, if you can read in French then Philippe Delerm is great for this. He aims to capture an impression or a moment, sometimes in just three pages.
I'll be honest, I almost gave up on this book. The first story in the book centres on a casual sexual encounter on a train, the next three stories also have significant moments of sex and I began to tire of the book.
After the book group meeting I thought again and decided to plough on with the stories, and I'm glad I did.
Munro's stories are set in Canada. It's important for the stories because you need to understand that they're set in a big country, sparsely populated, with small towns where everyone knows each other. This is not city life. And cars, trucks and trains are important in the stories.
The stories feature people who are shaped, often damaged by their past. Sometimes you know what happened. Sometimes you just conjecture. Different people come to different conclusions about the before and after of the stories.
The stories are about how people cope with each other, how angular people fit together, how damaged people live with each other's sharp edges.
You don't often get resolution. Apparently, we are told, there is always a moment of epiphany, when someone in the story realises what's going on. OK. Maybe. Again, apparently, we are told, people need to read one story a day, then ponder it - a bit like daily readings. I didn't. I finished one story, then ploughed on...
I enjoyed the stories, once I got past those first four, and they encouraged me to think of reading more short stories.