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THE BEST BOOKS OF 1996 | FICTION

ALICE MUNRO Selected Stories By Alice Munro: Alfred A. Knopf: 545 pp., $30

December 29, 1996|KATE PHILLIPS

A Canadian writer, Munro has been publishing stories for almost 30 years; they have earned her massive acclaim. This new collection offers both a fine testament to the stories that have made Munro's reputation and a delightful opportunity for the reader to journey at length in Munro's fictional territory.

Munro is above all else a realist. She seeks to evoke the mysteries of real life and she succeeds brilliantly. The important people in Munro's fiction are women. If these women are little concerned with national politics or the world at large, they take a great deal of interest in their own pocketbooks and even more in their own romances. These are the things, Munro suggests, that give shape to ordinary lives; these are the things that really matter.

Parents, Munro knows, are full of such surprises and secrets. The narrator of "The Ottawa Valley" tells her story as part of an effort to "find out more" about her mother. "It is to reach her that this whole journey had been undertaken. With what purpose? To mark her off, to illumine, to celebrate, to get rid of her."

This is what all art seeks: a coming to terms. What Munro achieves is a vantage from which such a consummation feels possible.

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