is a collection of short stories by Nobel Prize-winning Canadian author Alice Munro, first published by McClelland and Stewart in 2010. The fourteen pieces that comprise this volume take place largely in Munro's native Canada, peopled with characters undergoing major changes or having significant realizations amid the smaller moments of daily life. The New York Times
named Dear Life
a Notable Book, and the AV Club, The Atlantic
, NPR, the San Francisco Chronicle
, and Vogue
all selected it as one of the best books of the year.
The collection's centerpiece is the title story, which is narrated by an unnamed woman. As the story begins, she grows up in the Ontario countryside in the 1930s. Her parents run a fur business, raising minks and other animals and selling the pelts. Because of the location of her family homestead, the narrator must attend a country school, which she does not like. Her father purchases an old shed in town; this way, he is a tax-paying property owner and can send his daughter to the town school.
There, she makes friends with one of her classmates, but the narrator's mother forbids the two girls from spending any time together. The friend's mother was reportedly a prostitute who had died of a sexually transmitted disease. The narrator harbors a quiet grudge against her own mother for denying the friendship with the other girl.
The narrator focuses instead on schoolwork. Even though most girls of her time and environment did not complete high school, the narrator works hard to achieve this goal for herself. In between, she discovers the joy of reading and becomes a voracious consumer of books. She also helps her mother around the house.
Throughout her childhood, the narrator listens to her mother's stories about a mean old woman in town named Mrs. Netterfield—stories that are just wild enough that the narrator does not really believe them. Mrs. Netterfield was so cruel that she allegedly chased a deliveryman from her property with an ax because there was a mistake in her grocery order. The narrator's mother also claims that Mrs. Netterfield snuck up to her house when she was a child and peered in the windows before scurrying away.
When the fur business fails, the narrator's father finds a job as a guard at a nearby factory. At home, the narrator starts to notice early signs of Parkinson's disease in her mother. Over the years, the symptoms slowly but progressively worsen.
When she is an adult, the narrator moves to Vancouver, where she meets her husband. She still keeps a subscription to her small hometown newspaper. While reading it one day, she comes across a poem written by Mrs. Netterfield's daughter. This discovery inspires the narrator to seek out some old records, which show that the Netterfield family used to live in the house where the narrator grew up.
The narrator's mother eventually dies of Parkinson's. Since traveling to her funeral would be too costly, the narrator stays in Vancouver, but she misses her mother and wishes she could explain things to her. Having learned the truth of her Mrs. Netterfield stories, the narrator regrets not being closer to her mother.
It is this seemingly little moment of discovery—the truth of her mother's stories—that prompts the narrator to reevaluate the entirety of their relationship. Such moments thread throughout the stories in Dear Life
. In "To Reach Japan," a poet named Greta and her young daughter, Katy, take a train trip to Toronto. This simple act motivates Greta to reflect on her life and her steady marriage, eventually reaching a point in which she flirts with the idea of an extramarital affair and confronts her feelings of maternal guilt. In "Gravel," an older woman remembers her childhood and her normal family—both of which shattered because of a tragedy at a gravel pit.
In "Train," Jackson hops off a train somewhere in rural Ontario, where he meets Belle, a woman several years his senior. Despite the difference in age and a lack of common interests, their relationship is surprisingly normal and successful, proving that miracles need not be showy and majestic to be powerful and enduring. Even when death and long-buried secrets threaten to drive a wedge between them, Jackson and Belle understand how beautiful and profound their bond is, whether in the little moments of a shared life or on Belle's deathbed. Vivien, a young teacher, goes to work at a tuberculosis sanitarium, in "Amundsen," where she falls in love for the first time in her life, with the arrogant Dr. Fox. In telling her story, Vivien focuses on the quiet moments, the brief gestures, the glances, the words left unspoken—these are what define this experience for her.
The other short stories in Dear Life
are: "Leaving Maverley," "Haven," "Pride," "Corrie," "In Sight of the Lake," "Dolly," "The Eye," "Night," and "Voices."