Alice Munro is a Ninja
Novels are armies, they amass and mobilise, from small units to enormous legions they maneuver stories and characters as far as the eye can see. There is oodels of time to play out every battle and formation in great detail if wished, and have more endings than the LOTR ‘Return Of The King’ film. Novelists are field marshals.
The other end of the scale is comedy sketches. Character, setting, purpose and satisfactory ending must all be established in literally seconds. It has to be fast and accurate, and simple without being obvious, so therefore, is the guerrilla warfare of writing.
Short stories are written by ninjas. People think due to the duration of the attack and the simplicity of the costume, they are probably quite an easy task. Wander into any writing group and you’ll hear people reading short stories that completely miss the point, and are like chapter 1 and chapter 10 smushed together with very little sandwich filling in the middle. But I don’t judge these people, as it is such a hard medium. Ninjas have to sit in trees for hours and observe their prey, a huge amount of preparation and patience is required. Be one with the tree. There is no spoon. That kind of thing.
Alice Munro is a ninja. She hides in cupboards and on roofs watching the world, and then distills it into very vivid characterisation. Her short stories are dense but concise postcards from people’s lives that make me wish there was more to read. I bought ‘Dear Life’ on a whim and it made for perfect reading when going back and forth on a course for work. Wonderful bedtime/lunchtime lengths. I don’t buy a whole lot of books of short stories, but this is one I have not regretted at all.