three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
26-Jan-Feb-2007
By: 
Alice Munro
user_rating: 
0

Stories

A-The View from Castle RockFinally, Alice Munro, 75, reveals the source of her literary inspiration: "a life, my own life, but not [explored] in an austere or rigorously factual way." The two parts of this collection, "No Advantages" and "Home," contain personal stories as well as pieces Munro labels as fiction. In the title story, a 19th-century Scottish father takes his son to Edinburgh Castle, where he reveals his dream of immigrating to the New World. Later, in a comedy of errors, a lost baby sister magically reappears on the Canadian border; an unsuccessful father finds peace at an iron foundry; a hired girl summers with a glamorous family; this same girl goes to college; and, as a woman, she confronts cancer. "I put this material together over the years," Munro writes, "and almost without my noticing what was happening, it began to shape itself, here and there, into something like stories" that created a portrait of the author.
Knopf. 349 pages. $25.95. ISBN: 1400042828

Newsday 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Munro’s admirers may feel like they are reading the writer for the first time. … It is thrilling to read these pieces this way, to see them as Munro taking the organic, raw material of her life—much of it bleak, much of it complicated—and transforming it into something beautiful." Jennie Yabroff

Washington Post 4.5 of 5 Stars
"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

Christian Science Monitor 4 of 5 Stars
"While the stories may feel more personal to Munro, a reader familiar with her previous collections, such as The Beggar Maid and Runaway, will find that the Castle Rock view is a pretty familiar one. The fully drawn women; the rural, cash-strapped setting; the precise writing, are all present and accounted for." Yvonne Zipp

Milwaukee Jrnl Sentinel 4 of 5 Stars
"These are Alice Munro’s most personal stories. We should be grateful, for they give us a privileged portrait of a brilliant artist." Charles E. May

Wall Street Journal 2 of 5 Stars
"It’s not hard to understand why anyone entering her middle 70s would be drawn to this sort of genealogical dig, but it’s disorienting to see a writer as sure-footed as Ms. Munro with so little control over her material. … The View From Castle Rock makes clear what many of Ms. Munro’s readers have long suspected—that her personal past has been Ms. Munro’s wormhole into her own imagination." John Freeman

San Francisco Chronicle 1.5 of 5 Stars
"Rather than letting it stand on its own, Munro feels a need to explain what this hybrid collection, with its not-quite-this, not-quite-that components, really is. And though she asserts … that ‘these are stories,’ the dozen pieces that make up The View From Castle Rock read more as journal drafts and notes that have not quite discovered their form or direction." Floyd Skloot

Critical Summary

Alice Munro’s fans will find many familiar themes in this collection: father-daughter relationships, small-town repression, domestic work, discontented girls, and education. At the same time, Munro extends her craft deeper into her own past. Yet while she labels some parts historical-autobiographical, it’s unclear just how many stories arise from personal experience, no matter how much depth each possesses. Perhaps it doesn’t matter: Munro’s particular talent lies in recreating art as life. If this collection pleased most critics, however, its "waffling between genres" and kitchen-sink feel raised concerns for others (San Francisco Chronicle). Despite its powerful prose and sheer beauty, Castle Rock may not be for Munro novices; instead, try Carried Away, a new selection of the author’s small masterpieces.