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Niagara on the Lake, Ontario, Canada
My virtue is that I say what I think, my vice that what I think doesn't amount to much.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The View From Castle Rock

Alice Munro insists that these are stories but this hybrid memoir/fiction reads like an autobiography. It registered as fact rather than as a collection of short stories partly because the area of Ontario where the stories unfold is so familiar to me. The first part of the book, No Advantages, tells the tale of Munro's ancestors, the Laidlaws, who made their way from the Ettrick Valley, Scotland to Ontario, Canada in 1818. She moves on in the section called Home to stories based on her own childhood and adolescence where the reader gets a sense of the development of Alice Munro the author. In the end Munro travels to Joliet, Illinois to visit the grave of a Laidlaw relative but cannot find it although she does find an Unknown Cemetery where he may have been laid to rest although there are no markers to verify that his remains are there.
A while back I worked at a National Historic Site in Queenston Ontario that was built in 1834 and I learned a lot about the area in the War of 1812 era and later. The first four stories in this collection echo what I know of that period in Southern Ontario.
I loved the stories of the old country, of the uncomfortable voyage to the new world, the hard work of clearing the land, the small town Ontario place names that I know so well, the child Alice and the willful, intelligent, passionate young woman she became. This book wrapped around me like a cozy familiar blanket. It is substantial; it is powerful; it is beautiful.

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