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about Alice (and Wayson)

Alice Munro. What to say that hasn’t been said? The miracle of her — a brilliant, sharp-eyed girl from small-town Ontario, watching, processing, taking it all in, pouring it all out. Writing, we learned, on top of the washing machine after her kids had gone to school. I read once that she had so little confidence in herself, she scribbled stories on the backs of the envelopes bills came in, eventually stitching them together and daring to submit them.

I like to read in bed, before sleep. Once I made the mistake of taking one of Alice’s books to bed and had to shut it and put it away. Not bedtime reading, Alice Munro. What you think will be gentle stories of women’s lives are often, in the most subtle ways, brutal, violent, terrifying. What pleasure it was, though, to get the latest New Yorker and find a new story by her, sitting down immediately to read it — in daylight.

I have a travel diary of my father’s, when he went to China in the mid-seventies. On one page, he wrote, “Reading Lives of Girls and Women. Excellent. Send to Beth.” And he did.

French Lynn’s Ph.D. thesis in linguistics was about “The use of if, and, or but” in one story of Alice Munro’s.

On top of her brilliance and dedication, she was beautiful, gracious, dignified. Thank you, Alice, for the fierce unrelenting spotlight of your gaze, and for the extraordinary gift you gave to all Canadian writers, of showing that we matter on the world stage. Here’s a lovely NYT tribute by Sheila Heti:

https://www.nytimes.com/2024/05/15/opinion/what-alice-munro-would-never-do.html

We did have our Mother’s Day feast, preceded and followed by much bouncing on the remains of the trampoline by Ben, Sam, and Bandit, who loves bouncing. The best part was reading a few chapters of The Island of the Blue Dolphins to them in the sunshine. As I’ve said before, the main reason to have children and grandchildren is so you can re-explore great kids’ books, and, in cases like this, discover them for the first time. She’s alone on an island with a pack of wild dogs! What will happen?

Yesterday at 5.45, on my way to teach at U of T, I was riding my bike through Queen’s Park, packed with children and grownups playing in the sun, when a young man riding an electric bike sped nearby. He was riding far too fast through a very crowded area. “Slow down,” I called to him. “Fuck you!” he snarled, speeding up.

I’ve made the mistake of subscribing to Jonathan Haight’s Substack. He writes about the degradation of our world because of social media, especially for young people, and it’s depressing as hell. He talks about the horrors freely available to kids on their smartphones — that a friend’s 9-year-old daughter at choir practice received a video of an actual beheading, that a huge percentage of young children have viewed pornography. He showed a photo of a young woman splayed on the railway lines outside Auschwitz, posing for a sexy selfie. There’s a heedless self-centredness that comes from obsession with the screen, the Likes, what others are doing, that is, as he says, degrading our world.

And Biden is sending a billion dollars worth of arms to Israel. So that’s my day done.

No, I won’t end there. My friend Louise in Ottawa just sent me a picture she took of me with my beloved Wayson at my 60th birthday party. I’d made name tags for everyone. Mine says, “Beth. Aging gracefully.” His says, “Wayson. Supreme guru.”

Let’s end on love. And another great writer, gone but never forgotten.

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2 Responses to “about Alice (and Wayson)”

  1. Theresa says:

    When I was in my last year of high school and had read Lives of Girls and Women, I used to go to her book store in Victoria and buy books with money I couldn’t really afford (I was saving for university) just so I could have a few words with her at the counter. She’d make change! Always so friendly.

  2. Beth Kaplan says:

    How wonderful. I wish I’d met her. She mattered so much to so many of us.

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About Beth

I began keeping a journal at the age of nine. Nearly fifty years later, I started this online journal, sharing reflections, reviews, updates, and the occasional secret.

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