1. It’s a book by Alice Munro. That’s enough really. But there’s more.
2. The book is partly set in Scotland. It’s inspired by Munro’s genealogical research and follows the path of her ancestors from Scotland across to Canada. Regular readers of this blog will know of my frequent trips to Scotland, my fascination with the details I’ve turned up about the lives of my Scottish ancestors, and the way that some of these details have crept into my own fiction. It will be intimidating, of course, but also exciting to see what Munro has made of her Scottish material.
3. It is ostensibly a collection of short stories, not a memoir, but it seems to take on a more complex, hybrid form than that. For example, the stories, arranged chronologically, feature characters that bear the names of Munro’s actual relatives and, I gather, work their way up to more contemporary first-person narratives from the perspective of a character named Alice. In the foreword Munro writes of the book’s evolution:
I was doing something closer to what a memoir does—exploring a life, my own life, but not in an austerely factual way. I put myself in the centre and wrote about that self, as searchingly as I could. But the figures around this self took on their own life and color and did things they had not done in reality. They joined the Salvation Army, they revealed that they had once lived in Chicago. One of them got himself electrocuted and another fired off a gun in a barn full of horses. In fact, some of these characters have moved so far from their beginnings that I cannot remember who they were to start with.
These are stories.
You could say that such stories pay more attention to the truth of a life than fiction usually does. But not enough to swear on. And the part of this book that might be called family history has expanded into fiction, but always within the outline of a true narrative. With these developments the two streams came close enough together that they seemed to me meant to flow in one channel, as they do in this book.
This formal innovation seems to me to reveal something really interesting about the process of writing fiction more broadly and I'm very much looking forward to seeing how the book unfolds.
I'm quite sure that you will hear more from me about this book as I work my way through it.