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Lunch at Alice's restaurant Add to ...

The story goes on to recount how the fox farm fails, the family grows poorer, the mother becomes bedridden with Parkinson's disease while her alienated teenaged daughter tries to resist her growing neediness. That's all true; that all happened to the Laidlaws. But Munro ends this story as she so often does, with a twist from left field: a quote from her father's novel, about how the men in the family welcome and honour a male relative who has become a millionaire. And suddenly the reproach "And all for money!" sounds ironic. But if this is feminist rage, it is expressed subtly: just a slight hardening of the lips.

Almost 50 years after her mother's death, Munro finds her own teenaged scorn for her ambitious mother a "shame of my life." She is appalled that she was not grateful for her mother's attempts improve the family income. "My mother had all the instincts that would have made us prosper. But my feelings were so intensely private and protective of dignity. Ha!"

She wrote this particular story, she says, as a kind of tribute to her mother. There are more stories in her head. "I am not finished yet with my mother. . . . But I may not publish them." In this, her motivation seems very like that of the heroine of Ian McEwan's novel Atonement, who writes in order to script a happy outcome for a shameful childhood act.

Munro laughs at the analogy. "All writing is atonement," she says. "I am always writing to make up for things I've done."

Last year, at the Vancouver International Writers Festival, she gave her last public reading. "I used to be nervous, but at this last reading, when I became aware that my mouth was going dry, I lifted a pitcher of water and poured it. In former times my hand would have shaken. This time it didn't. I was so happy!" That was her last public reading -- "it's too uncomfortable to stand in one place getting stiff, and then you have to hobble off, which looks like hell." (She is more concerned with looks than any Good Girl has a right to be. But then, she's not a Good Girl.)

As the remnants of Bailey's crab cakes are cleared away, Munro's tall geographer husband arrives. They flirt; she actually bats her eyes at him. She really enjoys her femininity. Amused, he says he'll wait outside in the car for her.

As he leaves, a second tall man comes over to Munro's table. "Alice! Is this your restaurant too?" It's Peter C. Newman, who has just put his sailboat into Goderich's dry dock for the winter. They chat for a moment, these two Canadian bestselling authors, these people of the book, who just happen to meet on a Tuesday afternoon in, of all places, downtown Goderich.

"Come outside and meet my husband," Munro tells Newman. "That way he can say I've introduced him to a real writer."

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