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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

Southern Ontario gothic literature is one of Canada's cultural gifts to the world. If you're not sure what Southern Ontario gothic is, well, think of the Southern American gothic writers: William Faulkner, Harper Lee, Tennessee Williams, with their focus on race, sexuality and religion. And then move them to Southern Ontario, and you get Alice Munro.

She's written a new collection of short stories called "Too Much Happiness," and Alan Cheuse has our review.

ALAN CHEUSE: I'm not the kind of reader or short story writer who puts much stock in exposition, but I sit still for Alice Munro's explanatory passages every time. She lays down such seemingly ordinary but useful sentences, one after another after another. Though I come to scoff, I stay to marvel.

Munro's expositions hold worlds of story material in themselves. There's this, from near the opening of the story called "Fiction." She writes:

In their first year of college, they dropped out of their classes and ran away together. They got jobs here and there, traveled by bus across the continent, lived for a year on the Oregon coast, were reconciled at a distance with their parents, for whom a light had gone out in the world.

The ironies of living a long life, with all of its twists and turns, abound in this story, including the main character's initial disdain for the short story form itself. Is there anyone writing short fiction today in English who has more authority?

But as safely settled inside the gates of literature as she may be, Munro advances her art in this current collection, with its cast of lovers and losers, husbands and widows, scientists and people who labor with their hands.

In the story called "Wood," we learn about the bite of a life working with bark.

Ironwood, that heavy and reliable firewood, she writes, has a shaggy brown bark. Cherry is the blackest tree in the bush, and its bark lies in picturesque scales. Ash is a soldierly tree with a corduroy-ribbed trunk.

The descriptions go on. And if this is what she does with trees in these stories, you can imagine what she does with the people.

SIEGEL: Alice Munro's new book is called "Too Much Happiness." Our reviewer, Alan Cheuse, teaches writing at George Mason University.

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