When The View from Castle Rock appeared in 2006, Alice Munro was widely quoted as saying she thought the book would be her last, suggesting that at the age of seventy-five she might not “have the energy to do this anymore”. Yet I am not sure anyone actually believed she might simply retire. Few writers have been more attuned to the hazards of age, and as long ago as her Paris Review interview of 1994 she had spoken about her fear of losing the necessary stamina and desire, equating the end of writing with death of the mind itself. So her words made her readers afraid, afraid less for the work than for her personally.
That solicitude was curious. For if the open secret of Munro’s career has been the degree to which she has drawn on the details of her own life, the singularity of her work lies in the fact it has never seemed to be about her. Her parents once ran a fox farm, as do Del Jordan’s in Lives of Girls and Women (1971), and like so many of her protagonists she too moved in a first marriage from Ontario to British Columbia, and then left that union behind her. Those connections, however, have never really been the point of her work. Such paradoxically impersonal details are simply her material, and her many volumes of stories owe little to the teasing dance of art and actuality – the sense of a counterlife – that shapes so much autobiographical fiction.