The view from Castle Rock in Edinburgh is America. It is a long way off, but you can see if from there if you know what you are looking for. Alice Munro’s “America” is Canada, mostly, where her ancestors came from an impoverished Scotland.
This is a rather curious book. I have enjoyed Munro’s short stories and find that they often hint of her personal experiences. These are memoirs of personal experiences with hints of of having become fiction. Speaking of her family researches, she says
I put all this material together over the years, and almost without my noticing what was happening, it began to shape itself, here and there, into something like stories.
Toward the end of the book, she finds it necessary to explain apparently-unrelated researches to a librarian:
If you are doing a paper, a study, you will of course have a good reason, but what if you are just interested? The best thing , probably, is to say you are doing a family history. Librarians are used to people doing that– particularly people who have gray hair–and it is generally thought to be a reasonable way of spending one’s time.
What she was looking for at the time was an explanation of a crypt in a country graveyard. With a possible cancer diagnosis, death is on her mind, but she doesn’t say that. She makes it remote, a matter of exploring an unidentified death, an unconventional burial. Something of the same remoteness infuses these stories of a little girl growing up on a failed fox farm near a town where it is not a good idea for a woman to be too smart. In no way could her great-great grandfather see the real America from Castle Rock. He knew it existed and he expected to go there, but knowing more had to await his arrival.