View from Castle Rock (Munro)

Book Reviews
Again and again, Munro pieces together narratives out of frayed, handed-down material, including her own recollections and those of her mother and father, paying special attention to the details of small-town and rural life. Some of these stories—"Lying Under the Apple Tree," about an early romance, and "Hired Girl," about a term of service with a wealthy family vacationing on an island up north—are as shapely and satisfying as any she has written.
A.O. Scott - New York Times


There are no pyrotechnics in [the prose], very little poetry. The few similes are apt but not dazzlingly so. There is suspense, but it is contrived without resort to any obvious devices. In short, Munro is the illusionist whose trick can never be exposed. And that is because there is no smoke, there are no mirrors. Munro really does know magic: how to summon the spirits and the emotions that animate our lives.
Geraldine Brooks - Washington Post


Ten collections of stories and one novel have made Alice Munro one of the most praised fiction writers of our time. In The View from Castle Rock her full range of gifts is on display: indelible characters, deep insights about human behavior and relationships, vibrant prose, and seductive, suspenseful storytelling. Munro, in a foreword, tells how, a decade ago, she began looking into her family history, going all the way back to 18th-century Scotland. This material eventually became the stories presented here in part 1, "No Advantages." Munro also worked on "a special set of stories," none of which she included in previous collections, because they were "rather more personal than the other stories I had written." They now appear here in part 2, "Home." With both parts, Munro says, she has had a free hand with invention. Munro has used personal material in her fiction before, but at 75, she has given us something much closer to autobiography. Much of the book concerns people who have died, and places and ways of life that no longer exist or have been completely transformed, and though Munro is temperamentally unsentimental the mood is often elegiac. One difficulty that can arise with this kind of hybrid work is that the reader is likely to be distracted by the itch to know whether an event really occurred, or how much has been made up or embellished. In the title story, the reader is explicitly told that almost everything has been invented, and this enthralling multilayered narrative about an early 19th-century Scottish family's voyage to the New World is the high point of the collection. On the other hand, "What Do You Want to Know For?" at the heart of which is an account of a cancer scare Munro experienced, reads like pure memoir and seems not only thin by comparison but insufficiently imagined as a short story. Perhaps none of the stories here is quite up to the mastery of earlier Munro stories such as "The Beggar Maid" or "The Albanian Virgin." But getting this close to the core of the girl who would become the master is a privilege and a pleasure not to be missed. And reliably as ever when the subject is human experience, Munro's stories-whatever the proportions of fiction and fact-always bring us the truth.—Sigrid Nunez
Publishers Weekly


With this new collection, Munro (Runaway) more than lives up to her reputation as a master of short fiction. In 12 exquisitely constructed tales, she draws on family lore and letters to interpret the history of her Laidlaw relatives, a tough bunch from Scotland's Ettrick Valley that eventually emigrated to the New World. The title story, set in 1818, details a transatlantic voyage undertaken by six Laidlaws for whom ocean sailing is a totally new experience. Their struggles in adjusting to shipboard life anticipate challenges ahead in America as their fears and hopes culminate in the arrival of baby Isabel, all her life to be known as one "born at sea." In "No Advantages," a modern-day narrator's visit to Ettrick reveals what the family gained (and perhaps lost) by leaving the legend-haunted valley, while other stories explore how the harsh realities of wilderness pioneering affect several generations. All the narratives exhibit Munro's keen eye for realistic details and her ability to illuminate the depths of seemingly mundane lives and relationships. Highly recommended. —Starr E. Smith, Fairfax Cty. P.L., VA
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