The Last, Last Page

Jun 22 2013 @ 1:19pm

After winning the Trillium Book Award for her short story collection, Dear Life, Alice Munro told an interviewer “it’s nice to go out with a bang,” which seems to indicate she’s retiring from writing. In response, Laura Bennett reflects on our fascination with literary retirements:

There are plenty of novelists whose withdrawals from writing became the stuff of legend. Rimbaud flamed out before his 21st birthday and spent the rest of his life working as a soldier, in a stone quarry, as a salesman of coffee and guns. Salinger’s reclusive retirement fueled the mysterious lightning bolt quality of his legacy: one landmark novel, countless unpublished works. But today, in a culture obsessed with the minute chronicling of celebrity doings, our parsing of writers’ retirements has become preemptive, a kind of artistic augury.

Of course, one needn’t retire from writing as if it were the same as quitting a law firm or terminating an athletic career. It’s nice to hold onto the myth that writers write because some inner urge compels them, rather than publishers or deadlines or financial pressures. And when a writer fails to retire, it is equally a media marvel. Whenever someone over eighty publishes anything, half the book review often reads like a referendum on their age. Cynthia Ozick toldThe New York Times Book Review in March that she was tired of seeing reviews written as a measure of a writer’s mortality. “Middle C [by William Gass] is nearly everywhere accompanied by the numeral 88, as if Gass were a set of piano keys. Even his publisher sees fit to identify him by his years: a masterpiece by an 88 year-old master.”

Recent Dish on Munro’s work here.