Alice Munro's stories conjure up feelings that I don't normally experience from reading fiction. I abandon my concern with plot or character arcs (though these are certainly present) and instead allow myself to be transported by the beauty of each story as a whole. Every story is perfect and contains universes; to read them is to feel humble and uplifted at the same time. I finish each one and feel more like I have been staring at a beautiful painting or listening to music than reading a book.
That said, I can't read them very often, or read a lot of them in a row. To do so leads to feelings of overindulgence, like eating too much exquisite chocolate. You start to lose your ability to appreciate the subtleties, and you are just blinded by the light. Am I overdoing my praise here? I don't think so.
All art forms have pinnacles, and astute observers can recognize when an artist has reached one. It doesn't mean that other artists can't get there too, or haven't gone there already. I'm just saying that Munro is there, and I'm glad the Nobel committee has affirmed it. It's gratifying to see this modest woman receive the honor she is due.
Should you read the stories in Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage? Absolutely. This volume, published in 2001, is as good a place as any to start.
They are accessible, poignant stories about ordinary people in ordinary situations. A lot of them are about middle-aged people coming to terms with their lives' decisions. One especially powerful one is about two people stuck on a golf course in a thunderstorm. Only it's not really about that at all. As you read it you will feel the hair on the back of your neck stand up, just like the characters do in the story, but for different reasons.
Becky Holmes blogs about books at A Book A Week.