We’re doing a super special thing here this week! Because it’s Mother’s Day this weekend, our moms are joining us to help us tackle Alice Munro’s The Lives of Girls and Women. Here is a synopsis of Alice Munro’s only novel:
“Del Jordan lives out at the end of the Flats Road on her father’s fox farm, where her most frequent companions are an eccentric bachelor family friend and her rough younger brother. When she begins spending more time in town, she is surrounded by women — her mother, an agnostic, opinionated woman who sells encyclopedias to local farmers; her mother’s boarder, the lusty Fern Dogherty; and her best friend, Naomi, with whom she shares the frustrations and unbridled glee of adolescence.
Through these unwitting mentors and in her own encounters with sex, birth, and death, Del explores the dark and bright sides of womanhood. All along she remains a wise, witty observer and recorder of truths in small-town life. The result is a powerful, moving, and humorous demonstration of Alice Munro’s unparalleled awareness of the lives of girls and women.”
Kathleen: I enjoyed this one! Each chapter is a vignette Del’s life, almost like a group of short stories with a common thread. I enjoyed Munro’s writing, and loved the very three-dimensional characters – it was such an honest portrayal of small towns. One standout is how the book portrays sexual assault and child abuse as both horrifying but utterly commonplace.
I think a lot of Del’s childhood really resonates with me – her nosy aunts are my grandmother and her sister, and her description of being embarrassed by your parent but also protective of them was spot-on. She also talks about how throwing away a gift feels like “tender remorse which has on its other side a brutal, unblemished satisfaction.” Alice Munro, sometimes you get me. Maybe I only resonated with things Del felt guilty about?
Roisin: I gotta say I felt really medium about this one. I definitely enjoyed some of the chapters but found – especially the details of the town – retold through every chapter to the point where it became repetitive. I also think “girl too smart for small town she grows up in and writes about the locals in a detached anthropological way or with such classist hatred for farmers” is a Canadian trope I am done with. (Looking at you The Stone Angel!)
This book was a great examples of why I probably shouldn’t read the synopsis. I was excited for all the kooky characters listed in the synopsis and as we met each one I found them boring, a cipher that we only see through Del and I still don’t feel like I got any insight to the lives of these girls and women (lol). I found the last chapter the most interesting (sorry mom!) and would have enjoyed a book that started from there much more. I did write down the quote “Well-groomed girls frightened me to death” though because I love it so much.
Kathleen: Del in the last chapter was PEAK me, roaming around writing a book in my head all the time.
(Kathleen: just want to point out that every time my mom and I talk about this book she says “when does the sexual awakening happen? It says this book is about her sexual awakening!”)
Diane (Kathleen’s mom!): I’ve never read Alice Munro before, and I am LOVING reading this book. I’m taking my time with it so I’m not finished yet, but what I have read I have really enjoyed. I love how Alice Munro describes the smallest things in such minute detail, to the point that you really feel as though you are there. Del’s inquisitive mind and her constantly questioning of the world around her, driving everyone up the wall, really reminds me of you when you were a kid. I think we were both like that when we were young – I cannot relate to her mother’s disinterest in everything happening around her.
Margaret (Roisin’s mom!): You can really tell that she’s a short story writer, the chapters could stand alone. I couldn’t connect with her memories of childhood. Some books I can pick up any time of the day but I find I’m just not interested in this one enough, also as I was saying before I don’t identify with Del, her childhood isn’t my childhood yet it’s not fascinating either. One of the reasons I love Cat’s Eye (Margaret Atwood) is that she describes all the little dramas of grade 5 (or that age) in a way that I remember – but I felt like this book wasn’t relatable that way.
VERDICT: Should it be on the 30 before 30?
Roisin: Nope! I like Munro’s short stories, which she is better known for, so I’m not sure why there’s no collection of them on the list. We have a graphic novel later on in the list so presumably the works of fiction don’t all have to be novels!
Kathleen: I don’t think so! But I really want to read her short stories now.
Moms: Do you wish you had read this book before you turned 30? Would it have been important to you when you were my age?
Margaret: Sorry, I haven’t actually finished the book! I’m finding it a slow read, maybe it will get better by the end to justify being on the list.
As far as what books should be on the list I just haven’t read enough Canadian authors to be qualified, however I do think The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields (I enjoyed Larry’s Party as well) was a great book. I also really enjoyed Patrick DeWitt’s The Sisters Brothers and if I were picking a Douglas Coupland book that isn’t on the list I would nominate either Girlfriend in a Coma or All Families Are Psychotic (I haven’t read Generation X).
Diane: So far I would say no, unless the sexual awakening part is really good! I’m joking, but I think this is a book I would have enjoyed when I was younger because I was such a voracious reader, but it wouldn’t have held a special place with me.
Thanks moms! And Happy Mother’s Day!
NEXT WEEK’S BOOK: Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese