Metro Mama Recommends: The View From Castle Rock
Alice Munro’s latest collection of short stories, The View from Castle Rock is her most autobiographical work yet—the stories, though fiction, are based on her own life and the lives of her ancestors. The first half of the collection traces the family history: Munro pieced the stories together from the written accounts of her ancestors (there has been a writer in each generation) as well as her own family research. In No Advantages she takes us back to the Scottish Borders in the 18th century; in the title story we join the family’s voyage to Canada in 1818; we witness the family’s struggles as pioneers in the 19th century; finally, in Working for a Living we meet Munroe’s parents, Robert a fox farmer and Anne, a former teacher.
The second half of the collection returns to the stories of Alice’s life. We cover some familiar territory for Munro readers: rural small-town life, the father we met in Royal Beatings, the dying mother and the guilt of a daughter trying to lead her own life. In The Ticket, we meet 19-year old Munro, newly engaged to Michael and deeply conscious of their class differences. Finally, in What Do You Want to Know For, a mature Munro deals with her own morality with the discovery of a lump in her breast.
This collection is Munro at her finest—it reminds me why she is my favourite living author. Her prose is poetic, her characters alive in the pages. My only disappointment is the territory she doesn’t cover—namely, her years as a mother and writer. While many of her stories explore her relationship with her mother, few treat her own experiences as a mother. One that does, My Mother’s Dream (from The Love of a Good Woman) is my all-time favourite Munro story. I wrote a paper about this you can find here.
If you don’t read Munro, you simply must! The View from Castle Rock is a great start, but don’t stop there. It’s fascinating to read all of her work and see how she revisits certain subjects. She has said this will be her last collection—I hope she has a change of heart.