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Dear Life by Alice Munro, a collection of fourteen short stories, has themes which range from the past, memory, loss, winter, and death, used to describe a dark, lonely, and wanting side of life. The author interweaves each story to reflect and influence the others. Her characters experience the pain of similar and at the same time different existences. By depicting one salient meeting or interaction upon which the stories are built, the author creates unique people, lives, worlds.

In many of the stories there is a sense of looming or foreboding that gains the reader’s interest. She reveals intrinsic human struggles in various ways ranging from tone, setting, and characterization. The first line of each story isolates the subject matter and sends a message to the reader that uncertainty is the only guarantee in life. In “Amundsen,” for example, Munro’s first line is, “On the bench outside the station I sat and waited.” (31). The author follows up the unsettled tone in her introductions with bleak surroundings, including freezing Canadian winters, which further suggest isolation, desolation, and, immobility. Finally, characters who experience loneliness while in the presence of others or characters who experience loss of life, love, or friendship, solidify the overall message the author conveys.

As a reader, it is easy to absorb the beauty and mastery of her writing, despite it’s complexity, because it falls together so perfectly. Since Munro overlaps her tone, settings, and themes so elegantly, the stories and characters stand alone and combine to create a cohesive whole. In retrospect, a reader can see in “Amundsen,” the complexity of a young teacher who meets her first love. We empathize for the loss of the love, for example, as it relates to other experiences of loss in the text (Munro 31-67). Pieces of the literary puzzle combine, so that in the end, the reader develops several isolated ideas from single stories and more holistic themes included within the text.

This text focuses on dark subjects, and it still remains a positive reading experience, because the author, writing, and ideas are great. She writes of those experiences, good or bad, which alter a person. She shows that life always comes with a lesson, if one is reflective.

Final Star Rating: 4 out of 5