Sunday, March 24, 2019

#12 [2019/CBR11] "Lives of Girls and Women" by Alice Munro

Lives of Girls and Women (1971) by Alice Munro is yet another book that I picked up because it was on my list of 50 Books Every Woman Should Read Before She Turns 40. Winner of the Nobel Prize for fiction, Lives of Girls and Women was written eight years before I was born. It takes place in rural Canada and tells the coming-of-age story of Del Jordan. This book is fiction, but the story felt semi-autobiographical and personal. I assume it must have been based on Munro's experiences, but being unfamiliar with her life and work, I cannot be sure.

Each chapter of this book is a discrete story from Del's perspective as she matures from a young girl through her teenage years. Munro focuses on the detail in the specific stories rather than the comprehensive whole. The chapters describe a small number of incidents that clearly had a strong impact on Del's life.

The first chapter sets the scene when Del's odd, hermit-like neighbor, "Uncle" Benny, finds a bride in an advertisement in the newspaper. He brings her home, along with the woman's toddler child. His new wife is difficult, irritable, and violent. She disappears one day, and when Benny hears from her, he borrows Del's father's car to find the child (who is being abused) and bring her home. However, not knowing the city or how to read a map, he gets lost and just barely makes it home--never seeing the woman or child again.

One of the major themes of this book was Del's struggle with the provincial nature of the town and her own hopes and dreams. Del is remarkably intelligent, memorizing large swaths of her mother's Encyclopedia set as a child. Yet the town frowned on people who thought too much of themselves or reached above their station. Del had the example of her mother: an intelligent, independent woman who often defied the town's expectations. But then she had the influence of the rest of her small society and their judgment of her mother. Del wanted to fit in and sometimes struggled with her own ambitions as well as her contradictory feelings toward her mother.

Another major theme was Del's sexual awakening. From Del's first crush, to her first sexual experience, to her almost giving up everything for her first love, Del's stories felt real. Del basically stopped studying and lost much of her ambition because of her infatuation with her boyfriend, Garnet. Her mother looked on hopelessly, and it made me wonder if the same thing had happened to her. Munro never explains why Del's mother ended up stuck in a small Canadian town with two kids when she so obviously would have fit in better somewhere else.

On the whole, I was impressed by this book. The stories of Del's life are told in a clear, intricate, honest manner that felt real.

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