Paul Greenberg

"I would really hope this would make people see the short story as an important art, not just something you played around with until you got a novel."
--Alice Munro
Nobel Laureate for Literature, 2013

Alice Munro, a forgiving and understanding sort, like the best of persons and writers, would surely be kind enough to overlook that exclamation mark in the headline over this column, even if her short stories are the kind that might never use one. British Reserve and all that. It's been said that people who use exclamation points are like those who laugh at their own jokes. Not done. Certainly not by a proper Canadian (if that phrase isn't a tautology) like this new Nobel laureate, whose short stories rival those of John Cheever in quality though quite different in character. They're kinder, gentler, full of sympathy and identification with their characters and with the human condition, specifically the middle-class variety thereof. Which somehow makes her prose all the more devastating, like being resigned to the way we are without ever being subdued by it. Her fiction is one more testament to what a piece of work is man -- and woman.

The news that Alice Munro had been awarded the Nobel Prize for literature almost restores one's faith in that prestigious award, so regularly more prestigious than deserved. And so often bestowed for purely political reasons.

This year's Nobel Prize for literature should certainly educate any of us who have been laboring under the delusion that "Canadian writing" is an oxymoron. Canada may be described as a vast land with some of the most beautiful scenery and most boring people in the world, but Alice Munro's short stories shatter that last stereotype. Gently and definitively. All you have to do is read the first sentence of one of her stories and you're sucked in, caught, enthralled, fascinated -- in the most proper, polite, Canadian way, of course.

Now the whole world has recognized Alice Munro. And now, probably like many another fan of her work, I'm both delighted and dismayed -- for here I'd thought that, despite all the acclaim she's received over the years, she was my secret. That's how personal, how familiar, how intimate and understanding her prose can be. It's a little like being a member of the multitudinous Orwell Cult yet convinced we're the only ones who really get him.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.