I always seem to second-guess my opinions on literary fiction, especially short stories, ESPECIALLY short stories centered around suburban ennui -- stuff that usually involves characters doing something normal and then they're reminded of something else that made them feel totally crappy about themselves. If I ever don't like something, I worry if I just don't get it. And if I ever DO like something, I worry if it's because I have a need to be a pretentious snot and should really just pick up a comic book or something.

Of course, nobody will convince me that story where a woman fell in love with a cow (not THAT way) in the wake of her disappointing marriage wasn't awesome. Or that other story I read that was basically Titanic but gay and on the Hindenburg wasn't shit. (I'm serious about that last one. Shit. Trust me.) But other writers, like Annie Proulx, make me go back and forth along that second-guessing thing ("But weird writing style!" "But intriguing yet despicable characters!" "But they all have names like Sarah Palin's kids!" "But ... but ... Wyoming!").

I think that's why I withheld judgment on Alice Munro for as long as I did, especially since I seemed to get the sense that this woman is a Canadian national treasure and I may very well be an American idiot. But having read around ten or so of her stories, I finally feel confident in saying that I really, really, really hate this writer.

I was first exposed to her in a writing class in college, where we had to read almost a whole book of her short stories, "Friend of My Youth." The teacher (who was pretty decent overall) LOVED her. He would go on and on about how she was a genius. Most of this hinged around her stories being able to cover the span of years and bucking the notion that short stories need to only be of one scene or a few days. They, he said, were like novels. And maybe they are. They're just novels I would NEVER WANT TO READ.

My biggest and crucial problem with Alice Munro is that while interesting things happen to her characters, I don't care about any of them. I don't mean that I necessarily have to like and approve of a character to find their story interesting (although I don't like or approve of anyone in Munro's stories), but I have to care about what happens to them. And ... really, interesting elements are THERE in a Munro story, but for me they never come together.

I think the reason why is I find Munro keeps her characters at a far reach from the reader. Even when she tells a story in first person, the main character is usually really talking about someone else. Usually I like this Great Gatsby-esque device, but in Munro's stories the main character tends to have contempt for or barely knows that someone else, so the distance between reader and character opens up again. I always get the feeling that this is intentional with Munro, that she's trying to explore the pain and tribulations of life and relationships by treating them all like some kind of science experiment.

But I think if you have characters who act as poorly as hers -- usually they're adulterers or murderers or selfish or losers -- you have to, as a reader, be emotionally invested in them in some way, either through some sort of fleeting sympathy or through I-can't-turn-away-what-will-they-do-next horror. One of the things I really loved about Tom Perrota's Little Children was how Perrota would make you feel so bad for the pedophile character because everyone was so mean to him in one scene, and in the next he would think/say/do something so totally horrible that you'd hate him, but then Perrota would make you feel for him in another scene. (It was something that, despite Jackie Earle Haley's fine performance, I don't think the movie did as well.)

Anyway, that's what I think WORTHWHILE writing does. But I never feel like Alice Munro's stories reach my emotions in any way. And, well, my teacher was right in that her stories have extremely long timelines. So I get the feeling that I'm watching someone who I don't care about's long, unfortunate life that begins badly and ends badly and nothing good happens in between. If Munro's stories leave me with any emotion, it's that life is nothing but a wasteland of misery and missed opportunity and yet somehow never allows me to feel BAD for this tragedy of existance. It's just the way things are ... isn't that such a fascinating phenomenon that we see from our ivory tower, analyzing it clinically through our microscope?

I recently read "The Wilderness Station" by her, because it was part of an anthology I was reading and I have a "must read every part of a book I own" fetish (LotR excepted). And even though I REALLY TRIED to like it, it was no dice again. The story had a lot of the elements I'm talking about. It was in letter format, almost all of the letters written by people who weren't a part of the central action of the story. And after we found out about the "truth" of the central action, the main characters' final confrontation happened off-stage and related by a character who didn't know the main characters that well and who was introduced AFTER the reader has learned what happened.

Yeah. I just ... no.

And her stories, at least for short stories, are REALLY LONG. Like 30 pages. So it's just a SLOG all the way through. And for what? Usually an extremely, extremely vague epiphany that never feels like it's worth the time. Fuck that.

So that's why I hate Alice Munro. I think I hate her enough I may just avoid any anthology that has her even in it in the future. It'll cut down on my "must read before I die" list, anyway. And then I can concentrate on people who are distant from their characters and their miserable lives but will give me the impression that they at least care what happens. Someone like Guy de Maupassant, maybe. Or Mary Gaitskill. Or Raymond Carver. Or ... yeah, you get the point.

From: [identity profile] big-wired.livejournal.com

Damned if I know she's a Canadian National Treasure or whatever. This is the first time I've heard of her, truth be told.

Even though I haven't read her stories, I do have to agree with you in regards to the spirit of your argument regarding her word, in that there are elements I enjoy, but the characters I hate.

I feel much the same way about Inu Yasha, which has some really cool, awesome elements for a magical feudal Japan era story, but the characters don't change, and after while I came to care very little about them. They're basically stagnating and being retarded for no reason that I can see, and the only growth I see is in their powers and abilities, which does not account for character growth.

From: [identity profile] quietprofanity.livejournal.com

I haven't read Inu-Yasha, but as a casual fan of Rumiko Takahashi I get what you're talking about. The "mostly-static characters" thing goes back to Urusei Yatsura, which I love (see my icon), but her schtick is mostly to add on more characters when things grow stale, which I don't think leads to the good character development of her first characters in a series.

I actually haven't been that interested in Inu-Yasha because, weirdly enough, I like UY and Ranma 1/2 too much and haven't really shelled out the money to invest in buying the whole series of them, so going for the Rumiko Takahashi story I'm only somewhat interested in doesn't really seem like a good measure of time/effort.

Plus, fuck it, I've seen Fushigi Yugi already. [stubborn!]

From: [identity profile] i-am-your-spy.livejournal.com

The thing with Canadian national treasures is—okay, we really don't have a good literary tradition. Ondaatje is good, as is Mistry, but what's good about them is that they're bringing other literary traditions here. Ditto with most of the up-and-coming young authors I like. And there's always been good stuff out of Québec.

But English Canadian canon? Is crap. Like the Group of Seven, it only gets studied because it's Canadian. Even Atwood is really hit and miss, in my extremely unpopular opinion. For some reason Canadian literary types think that cold, distant writing about boring characters leading sad lives is really deep. And the longer the story/novel, the more Important and Literary it is.

Munro to me represents the worst of that tradition.

From: [identity profile] quietprofanity.livejournal.com

I wonder if I've only heard of Ondaatje and Atwood because they wrote books that took place in America. (Or "Gilead," in Atwood's case.)

That's all interesting, though.

(I've always liked Brit Lit the best myself. I think America got okay after we got away from stupid super-literal Puritanism.)

From: [identity profile] cleome45.livejournal.com

I had to turn in my Feminist Badge when I realized that nothing would ever make me like Handmaid's Tale.

I know it's a Classic And All, but I just. don't. like. it. It was hell to slog through and I would feel in no way diminished if I never even thought about it for three seconds ever again. :/

(Sigh.) And yet Cat's Eye is one of my favorite books ever. Atwood to me is a writer who when she's on, she's really on, and when she's off... I'm comatose. :p

From: [identity profile] quietprofanity.livejournal.com

I haven't read either (although Handmaid's Tale is sitting on my shelf) so I have no opinion.

I still call myself a feminist and have a burning hatred for The Awakening and wasn't impressed by "The Yellow Wallpaper," though, so I don't feel bad about HT.

From: [identity profile] cleome45.livejournal.com

Haven't read Chopin, and nothing of Gilman's but Women & Economics, which of course ain't fiction. But it was interesting.

I'll have to check out Munroe now. Sounds like somebody I'd either love or hate, given your description.

From: [identity profile] quietprofanity.livejournal.com

Well, I bought Herland, partly because it was $1 and partly because Alan Moore made a pretty good joke about it in that huge League of Extraordinary Gentlemen almanac, so I haven't totally written Gilman off.

From: [identity profile] quietprofanity.livejournal.com

Well, the Almanac is basically supposed to be a map of all the fictional worlds ever. (There are way more matriarchal societies than I ever could have imagined, by the way.) So in his South America section, he describes two islands, both within swimming distance of each other that are unaware of each other. One is the island where Robinson Crusoe lived all by himself for years ... but if only he'd just swum a few miles, he could have been stranded on/gone to Herland.

I thought it was funny, anyway.

From: [identity profile] cleome45.livejournal.com


:D I should be reading Moore's stuff in greater quantity, I guess. :D

From: [identity profile] quietprofanity.livejournal.com

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is one of those things that turns me into a screeching loonbag of fangirl joy. It's not really his most compelling story (the beginning to LoEG vol. 2 is something of a slog) but if you really like classical literature it's a lot of fun. If only in that, "Hey, everyone! It's that cab driver from David Copperfield. [applause here]" way. The Black Dossier also has Moore doing imitations of Shakespeare and P.G. Wodehouse that are awesome.

Watchmen and Lost Girls are great, too, even if the latter is prohibitively expensive (and some of the sex is creepy, I won't lie). And I LOVE The Mirror of Love, even if I love Jose Villarubia's pictures in that a little more than Moore's poetry. V for Vendetta is pretty good, too.

The only thing of his I really disliked were some of his stories in that DC Universe: The Stories of Alan Moore collection or whatever, but I really like his "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?" story, so even that wasn't a waste of time.

From: [identity profile] cleome45.livejournal.com

I've enjoyed V and Watchmen, but what I'd really like to read again in their entirety are The Ballad of Halo Jones and Miracleman. I wonder if I'd still like them as much now as I did twenty-some years ago, or if they'd seem more ordinary now given how much the U.S. comics scene has changed.

Time for another trip to the library. Thanks. :)


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