Monday, November 11, 2013
The Beggar Maid - Alice Munroe
Posted by JaneGS
After Alice Munroe was awarded this year's Nobel Prize for Literature, I read a number of reviews of her work in general. She's a short story writer, and I like short stories. She's Canadian, as is my mother, and I've always felt a bit feeble for not having read more Canadian authors. Her stories were reputed to be of the commonplace, the everyday, the unsung--I tend to like stories like this.
So, I stopped in at the library and picked up the only book left on her shelf--I clearly wasn't the only person who decided to see why Munroe was awarded a Nobel Prize. The book I read was The Beggar Maid: Stories of Flo and Rose--a collection of stories about Rose and her step-mother Flo, and published as a collection in 1991.
I'm not sure this was the best introduction to Munroe because frankly I didn't think the stories were that good. They span a period of about 40 years--from when Rose is a young child to when Flo is elderly, suffering from dementia, and in a nursing home and Rose is middle-aged and trying to make the right decisions regarding caring for her. Neither woman is very appealing--neither demonstrates qualities that I admire--and their stories are uniformly dull. That said, Munroe is an excellent writer--she has a quiet, deft touch with words, a spareness that is elegant, and an honest, unflinching manner. She is not coy.
I wanted to love these stories, but I didn't. Actually, it crossed my mind that Rose is somewhat like Anne of Green Gables, but without the rosy patina of fancy that L.M. Montgomery scattered over her creation. They are both isolated and adrift as young children, craving love, nursing ambition, dreaming big. But Rose's life is gritty and grubby, mean-spirited, and selfish. She looks for love, but discards it without actually letting it envelope her. Flo has the harsh exterior of Marilla but without the big heart and sterling core. I'm not sure if I would've thought to compare Anne and Rose if they both hadn't been from Canada--I think maybe, but the Canadian roots made the comparison inevitable for me.
I have another Alice Munroe waiting on my TBR shelf--Dear Life--a much more recent collection of stories. I hope I like it better. I really want to love Munroe's work!