The View from Castle Rock is famed short story writer Alice Munro’s most personal and reflective collection to date; it is likely also her last. Now in her late 70s, she’s announced she’s putting the cap on her pen for good. What a loss. Few other writers have so breathtakingly navigated the ever-changing feelings that shift beneath our everyday lives. Few have had Munro’s talent for the startling epiphany or revelation behind the black-and-white telling of unremarkable lives.
In some ways, this latest collection is vintage Munro: half of the stories are rooted where almost all have been, in Ontario, Canada, and bring the usual nuanced portrayals of the Scotch-Protestant culture of the region. While Munro’s relationship with her mother has been much explored terrain in her earlier fiction, her father figures more predominantly now. What’s also new is a sense of late-in-life pride swelling up under the depictions of the way of life and people — forever gone — who populated her simple farm childhood.
In the first half of the book Munro reaches further afield than she has in past, back to her Scottish ancestors before, during and after their passage to “America.” These stories feel sketchy in parts, perhaps reflecting the fragmentary bits of information she was able to find while researching her ancestors, but still less satisfying than her other stories. One exception is the title story, a quiet masterpiece that condenses an epic family tale into fewer than 60 pages.