The Chekhov Of Ontario


Bruce McCall praises this week’s Nobel prize-winner Alice Munro for her precise depiction of southwestern Ontario – “that grindingly conformist, stonily Calvinist world of humble lives and humbler expectations, where a gnawing sense of shame was inevitable”:

Hers doesn’t really feel like Nobel territory. A low cloud of modesty over-hangs Ms. Munro’s fictional world – no harrowing diasporas, no heroic sagas, just vignettes of everyday life in perhaps the least colorful, least dramatic setting in North America. And no grand passion – that’s for the Yanks and the Brits. There is instead a clinical quality to Ms. Munro’s work, a dissection of her characters as if they were so many bugs under a microscope. …

Yet a root part of the Munro magic is that you somehow care deeply about her forlorn losers and their constricted lives. She gets you hoping against hope that they’ll come out OK. And even when they don’t, she has set up fates of such exquisite and spiritually just logic that you realize there was ultimately no alternative. Ruefully perhaps, certainly sadly, you have to agree: that’s life. Unforgiving, unfair, futile life. If only Alice Munro had lived in, say, Southern California!

(Photo of an aging barn in Huron County, Ontario, by Flickr user breakthrunow)