The View from Castle Rock
In this collection of stories, Alice Munro picks through her family tree – as far back as 18th century Scotland and as close as her recent cancer scare – to present a tender and nostalgic genealogical narrative.
Starting in Ettrick Parish, Scotland, a country of “no advantages,” Munro chronicles the lives of a few locally famous Laidlaws and Hoggs and Bostons. These early anecdotes fascinate, but Munro’s writing is restrained: Some stories read like a mix of genealogical research and stop-and-start narrative, as if Munro herself hesitated to fictionally fill in the gaps in the historical record. Once her ancestors board the ship to Canada, however, the storytelling soars. The settlers bring their provincial ways, their stoicism, and their silences to the wilderness. They obtain land, clear it, and farm. As the stories draw closer to the present, the tales deepen in insight and perception. They also become exquisitely personal. The second half of the book reads like a memoir, full of tales of her ill-matched parents, her own rustic childhood, her sexual awakening, and painfully discerning details about the peculiarities of the rural population. Here, Munro is at her best, describing in a softly nostalgic way a world and a lifestyle that is disappearing. The View from Castle Rock is not the most cohesive of Munro’s story collections, but the clarity and intensity of the second half of the book make it well worth the price.