The View from Castle Rock by Alice Munro

Title: The View from Castle Rock
Author: Alice Munro
Genre: fiction, short-story collection
ISBN: 9781400042821
Pages: 349
Year Published: 2006
Source: public library
Rating: 3/5
Reason for Reading: for RBC Discussion; Canadian Author Challenge

Book Description (from dust cover):

…In stories that are more personal than any that she’s written before, Alice Munro pieces her family’s history into gloriously imagined fiction. A young boy is taken to Edinburgh’s Castle Rock, where his father assures him that on a clear day he can see America, and he catches a glimpse of his father’s dream. In stories that follow, as the dream becomes a reality, two sisters-in-law experience very different kinds of passion on the long voyage to the New World; a baby is lost and magically reappears on a journey from an Illinois homestead to the Canadian border.

Other stories take place in more familiar Munro territory, the towns and countryside around Lake Huron, where the past shows through the present like the traces of the glacier on the landscape and strong emotions stir just beneath the surface of ordinary comings and goings. First love flowers under the apple tree, while a stronger emotion presents itself in the barn…

Evocative, gripping, sexy, unexpected–these stories reflect a depth and richness of experience. The View from Castle Rock is a brilliant achievement from one of the finest writers of our time.

My Thoughts: I rather enjoyed this collection of short stories, however much I usually dislike such collections. These stories did flow well together, even if each story barely referenced any previous one–they’re the sorts of stories one could read out of order, because no one story depended on any other story.

One of the things I particularly enjoyed about these stories were the long time-span of which they covered. Munro starts with a story about her great-great-great-great-grandfather back in Scotland and progresses up until her present life. I like how the stories are collected further into two different collections–the fictional stories about her long lost ancestors who lived in Scotland and their journey to the New World and the further exploration of central-northern US/central-southern Canada. The second part concerns truer stories, stories of Munro’s own life and journeys. this split between fictional and more autobiographical was a good feature I felt Munro used.

Cover: This cover is pretty simple–an old photograph, which I am assuming comes from Munro’s family history. Since the novel is called “The View from Castle Rock”, I think the photo is meant to show the father and son pair, mentioned in the story of the same name, who look across the ocean and see the New World (America/Canada). The boys could either be turned around, and that piece of land in the background is the New World. OR, the photograph could have been “taken” from across the ocean, in a land that is already the New World. Does that make sense? 🙂

The following concerns only the second part of this short story collection, called “Fathers”, due to being a copy of my book discussion post on Rory’s Book Club.

In this second part, I especially liked the “Hired Girl” story. I could relate to Munro (narrator) because I, too, have had summer jobs. Munro worked as a maid in an affluent home for the summer. While I’ve never had this particular job, I have babysat/chauffeured for some rich kids (that’s the closest I’ve been to Munro’s job). Munro was happy with her job because it did show her something of the world outside her small town. I always thought it would have been cool to work on a cruise ship as a summer job. It would have allowed me to travel more and see a little more outside of my very small world. But, unfortunately, I did my summer job on top of my normal year-round job so I couldn’t just quit.

I also liked the “What Do You Want to Know For?” story. I liked how Munro would insert news about her possible breast cancer intermittently throughout the story. It was kind of like saying, “I’m old. I’ve lived my life. I’ll just go on with my everyday routines.” She even said this, in so many words:

“I am over sixty. My death would not be a disaster. Not in comparison with the death of a younger mother, a family wage-earner, a child. It would not be apparent as a disaster.” (p323)

And what sorts of things did Munro do when she was not thinking about her situation?

“I filled my time by answering letters and cleaning up my house and going through my files and having people to dinner. It was a surprise to me that I was busying myself in this way instead of thinking about any deeper matters.” (p317)

On second reading of this quote, I see how these sorts of things could sort of be seen as Munro is wrapping her life up, getting things together, and taking care of anything unfinished. But, I can also see these things as those of everyday daily life. They can be used as a distraction from really thinking. So, I wonder what Munro meant of these things. Was it my first or second impression?

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2 thoughts on “The View from Castle Rock by Alice Munro

  1. I’m not always a big fan of short stories as well, but this does sound a bit intriguing — I do love the cover, it’s unique!

  2. […] The View from Castle Rock by Alice Munro (two posts about this: first post, second post) […]

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