[...] there is this existential loneliness in the real world. I don't know what you're thinking or what it's like inside you and you don't know what it's like inside me. In fiction I think we can leap over that wall itself in a certain way. But that's just the first level, because the idea of mental or emotional intimacy with a character is a delusion or a contrivance that's set up through art by the writer. There's another level that a piece of fiction is a conversation. There's a relationship set up between the reader and the writer that's very strange and complicated and hard to talk about. A really great piece of fiction for me may or may not take me away and make me forget that I'm sitting in a chair. There's real commercial stuff can do that, and a riveting plot can do that, but it doesn't make me feel less lonely.
There's a kind of Ah-ha! Somebody at least for a moment feels about something or sees something the way that I do. It doesn't happen all the time. It's these brief flashes or flames, but I get that sometimes. I feel unalone--intellectually, emotionally, spiritually. I feel human and unalone and that I'm in a deep, significant conversation with another consciousness in fiction and poetry in a way that I don't with other art.
The curious thing about David's fiction, though, is how recognized and comforted, how loved, his most devoted readers feel when reading it. To the extent that each of us is stranded on his or her own existential island--and I think it's approximately correct to say that his most susceptible readers are ones familiar with the socially and spiritually isolating effects of addiction or compulsion or depression--we gratefully seized on each new dispatch from that farthest-away island which was David. At the level of content, he gave us the worst of himself: he laid out, with an intensity of self-scrutiny worthy of comparison to Kafka and Kierkegaard and Dostoyevsky, the extremes of his own narcissism, misogyny, compulsiveness, self-deception, dehumanizing moralism and theologizing, doubt in the possibility of love, and entrapment in footnotes-within-footnotes self-consciousness. At the level of form and intention, however, this very cataloguing of despair about his own authentic goodness is received by the reader as a gift of authentic goodness: we feel the love in the fact of his art, and we love him for it.
Can a better kind of fiction save the world? There's always some tiny hope (strange things do happen), but the answer is almost certainly no, it can't. There is some reasonable chance, however, that it could save your soul. If you're unhappy about the hatred that's been unleashed in your heart, you might try imagining what it's like to be the person who hates you; you might consider the possibility that you are, in fact, the Evil One yourself; and, if this is difficult to imagine, then you might try spending a few evenings with the most dubious of Canadians. [...]
that being Alice Munro
[...] George Eliot, in her essay on German realism, put it like this: 'The greatest benefit we owe to the artist, whether painter, poet, or novelist, is the extension of our sympathies ... Art is the nearest thing to life; it is a mode of amplifying experience and extending our contact with our fellowman beyond the bounds of our personal lot.'
And in our own reading lives, every day, we come across that blue river of truth, curling somewhere; we encounter scenes and moments and perfectly placed words in fiction and poetry, in film and drama, which strike us with their truth, which move and sustain us, which shake habit's house to its foundations [...]
this makes me melt
What do writers do when they seriously notice the world? Perhaps they do nothing less than rescue the life of things from their death--from two deaths, one small and one large: from the 'death' which literary form always threatens to impose on life, and from actual death. Which is to say, they rescue us from our death. I mean the fading reality that besets details as they recede from us--the memories of our childhood, the almost-forgotten pungency of flavours, smells, textures: the slow death that we deal to the world by the sleep of our attention. [...]
The five-minute warning bell had rung. I sat with my ankles on the railing reading a novel about the Second World War. I should have used the time to do my homework, but the appeal of Nazis, K rations, and sunlight slanting through the forest while men attempted to kill one another was too great. I read four or five hours every night at home, but it was never quite as sweet as in school, when even a snatch read as I climbed the stairs seemed to protect me from my surroundings with an efficacy that bordered on the magical. And if the story dealt with questions of life and death, so much the better. How could I be seriously worried about having nothing to hand in at Math when I was pinned in a shallow foxhole, under a mortar barrage, a dead man across my back and a hysterical young lieutenant weeping for his mother by my side? I could not resist the clarity of the world in books, the incredibly satisfying way in which life became weighty and accessible. Books were reality. I hadn't made up my mind about my own life, a vague, dreamy affair, amorphous and dimly perceived, without beginning or end.
[...] I read very fast, uncritically, and without retention, seeking only to escape from my own life through the imaginative plunge into another. Safe in my room with milk and cookies I disappeared into inner space. The real world dissolved and I was free to drift into fantasy, living a thousand lives, each one more powerful, more accessible, and more real than my own. It was around this time that I first thought of becoming a writer. In a cheap novel the hero was asked his profession at a cocktail party. "I'm a novelist," he said, and I remember putting the book down and thinking, my God what a beautiful thing to be able to say,
When I was a child, my mother told me that by the time I was old enough to die, a machine would have been developed to prevent it. Like the child in “The Eye,” I believed in this consolation until an inappropriate age, when its impossibility arrived all at once, with a similar hollowing force. The experience of recognizing a moment of your own emotional life in a piece of fiction — the reason, I think, that most of us read fiction — is especially characteristic of Munro’s work [...]