Northern Illinois University Press

Controlling the Uncontrollable

The Fiction of Alice Munro

Ildikó de Papp Carrington

"I want to write the story that will zero in and give you intense, but not connected, moments of experience. I guess that's the way I see life."—Alice Munro, interview in Publisher's Weekly

During the four decades of her writing career, Alice Munro has become Canada's most distinguished short-story writer. She is best known for her six collections of short stories and her regular contributions to The New Yorker. A stylistically provacative writer, Munro probes the inner lives of the girls and women who populate her fiction.

In this first American book-length study of her complete works from 1950 to January 1988, Carrington demonstrates the organic unity of the Munro corpus through the analysis of a paradoxical common theme, controlling the uncontrollable. Carrington argues that the central and most creative paradox of Munro's fiction is its repeated but consciously ambivalent attempt to control what cannot be controlled. This thematic paradox is rooted in Munro's cultural and personal ambivalence about language. Her ambivalence is mirrored in her voyeuristic narrators and protagonists, who split in half to control their suddenly fractured worlds.

Munro's retrospective, split point of view, and recurrent metaphors of splitting—such as lightning and earthquakes—are inseparable not only from each other but also from her conception of the artist and her perception of a constantly changing and uncontrollable world. Only through deliberate self-division can the artist attempt to control a world and a self that are both always vulnerable to fragmentation. Therefore, the characters struggling for control participate in an ongoing artistic process, a series of assaults on the same recurrently humiliating experiences, often dramatized through literary, operatic, biblical, and historical allusions that have been largely ignored by critics until now.

(1989) 254 pp.
ISBN: 978-0-87580-149-0
cloth $33.00

Table of Contents

1 The Medium of Control: The Humiliations of Language
2 The Uncontrollable: The Underground Stream
3 The Uncontrollable: A Power Loose in the World
4 The Controlled and the Controllers: Humiliated Characters, Voyeurs, and Alter Egos

  • Dance of the Happy Shades
  • Something I've Been Meaning To Tell You
  • Who Do You Think You Are?
  • The Moons of Jupiter
  • The Progress of Love
5 Controlling Memory: Mothers and Daughters, Fathers and Daughters
6 Conclusion: Point of View, Metaphor, and Paradox
General Index
Title Index

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ISBN: 978-0-87580-149-0
cloth $33.00