“Rage and Admiration”: Grotesque Humour in Dear Life

Ailsa Cox

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    Munro’s later collections have shown an especially acute engagement with encroaching mortality. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the stories in Dear Life, which, as the author herself has declared, brings her career to a close and may be seen as a summary of her own practice. One aspect of her work that is sometimes overlooked is the tragi-comic nature of her writing. As Magdalene Redekop has demonstrated in Mothers and Other Clowns (Routledge 1992), the stories incorporate carnival ambivalence through images of the grotesque body, parody, word play and intertextuality. Carnival humour, according to Bakhtin, mocks death and temporarily suspends rules and hierarchies, including those of age. Focusing on close readings of ‘Haven’, ‘Pride’, ‘Corrie’ and, especially, ‘Dolly’, I explore Munro’s life-affirming, but utterly unblinkered, approach to aging, mortality and the material body. The narrator of ‘Pride’ has a hare lip; the protagonist in ‘Corrie’ has been lamed by polio. ‘Dolly’ follows a comically incongruous love triangle, proving that sexual jealousy does not cease with advanced age; while in ‘Haven’, a connection between art, creativity, music and death first suggested in the title story of Dance of the Happy Shades (1968), is made literal through the figure of a corpse. I also discuss Munro’s presentation of the self as something that is staged or improvised; and the recurrence in this collection of display, performance and spectacle (see, for instance, the image of the dancing skunks at the end of ‘Pride’). Munro’s final piece of fiction in Dear Life, ‘Dolly’, may be read as a parody of her earlier accounts of sexual obsession; beginning and ending with the contemplation of death, it also affirms a short story aesthetic based in a fluid, ongoing reality which ultimately escapes representation.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationAlice Munro: Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage: Runaway, Dear Life
    EditorsRobert Thacker
    Place of PublicationLondon and New York
    Number of pages272
    ISBN (Print)9781474230995
    Publication statusPublished - 22 Sept 2016


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