Wednesday, June 23, 2010

"The View from Castle Rock" by Alice Munro, reviewed by Amy Postma

Alice Munro begins her 2006 collection of short stories, The View from Castle Rock, as an explanatory account of her earliest known and recorded ancestors. Initially, a reader familiar with Munro’s work might wonder if this extremely factual account will maintain the introspective pondering that Munro typically leaves readers wrestling with. However, as the stories progress through long ago historical accounts to the author’s analysis of her immediate ancestors, and finally, herself, you realize that this may be Munro’s most intriguing collection to date.

In the earlier stories she plays with the history she has available to her and constructs characters out of the names, following the journey of her ancestors from Ireland to North America. Classic Munro emerges in this creation of fiction from scattered yet traceable bits of real life. The stories continue to grow more truthful and personal to a point at which the reader finally can declare that, yes, the first person protagonist in this story is, in fact, Munro herself, and not an inspired fictional version of her.

For devoted readers of Munro’s work, these stories serve as illuminating echoes to many stories already read. Casual mentions of a protagonist’s grandmother turning her true love away in another collection is expanded upon as an examined memory in “The Ticket”. Other odd characters such as a group of aunts and uncles who live together reclusively in the country we learn are her father’s actual aunts and uncles in “The Wilds of Morris Township”. Instead of a fictionalized glimpse of their oddity, we see their situation unfold as Munro takes us down her family tree. There are countless other casual and central characters, themes, and settings that echo so much of Munro’s work, making this read a deeper look into the process of her writing.

The View from Castle Rock reaches far wider than the purpose of exploring a family history. It opens up Munro’s literary world and paints it with truth, effectively making her life’s work an enticing collection that seems to stem from this culmination.
Amy Postma lives in Burlington, Otario, and is a recent university graduate and aspiring writer. Her work has been published in Ascent Aspirations Magazine as well as The Antigonish Review’s online spotlight on student writing, The Poet Grow Op.

For information about Brian Henry's writing workshops and creative writing courses, see here.

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