Lives of Girls and Women (1971)

by Alice Munro

Unlike a traditionally plotted novel, Alice Munro's Lives of Girls and Women is like a television series in which each self-contained episode focuses on a theme in the coming-of-age story of star Del Jordan in 1940s' small-town Canada. This episodic quality isn't surprising from Munro, a contemporary master of the short story who has written only this one novel.

Going into the fourth grade in the first chapter, first-person narrator Del is living with her parents and younger brother on a fox farm outside Jubilee, Ontario, a town that was founded by her great-great-grandfather. Later her mother rents a place in town and learns to drive so that she can go on the road selling encyclopedias. Del is embarrassed by her opinionated, agnostic mother, but she herself is unconventional for a girl of the '40s. She doesn't want children, is certain that fame is her destiny, and stores her writings as other girls store pillowcases for their future households. 

Whether refusing to view an uncle in his coffin or sharing sexual information with her best friend or resisting a boyfriend's pressure to be baptized, Del is bright, insightful, and funny. She somehow avoids the worst consequences of her girlhood follies. The book ends with Del on the verge of womanhood; what will happen to her next isn't all forecast, but the book is evidence that she became a writer. Lives of Girls and Women is believed to have been based on the author's real life, and Munro has commented ambiguously that it is "autobiographical in form but not in fact."


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