Somehow I don't think I'm quite smart enough to really comment on this book. I'm a big fan of Alice Munro, although I sometimes think that I'm not "getting" everything she's conveying. I don't consider that her fault. She's not as difficult on the surface as, say, Virginia Woolf, but the simplicity of her text might be deceptive.
Anyway. I loved this collection. A few years back, Munro made noises about retiring, but apparently she rethought that. As long as she's producing work this good, I'm all for her continued employment.
The title sounds like something saccharine or cloying, like how precious life is, but the title story uses that phrase in a different way, as a young mother senses a threat to her child and snatches her out of harm's way, holding on "for dear life". That's a worthy interpretation of most of these stories, filled with people in decades-ago Canada, trying to find and hold on to what's important, or to cope with the loss of that thing so worth hanging on for dear life.
There are stories that have endings that are ambiguous, some that you see coming but wish you didn't, and yet they're the right endings, even if they're painful. The final four, including the title story, have a preface that notes they are all parts of one larger piece that is "autobiographical in feeling, though not, sometimes, entirely so in fact."
Munro's style is something I have always admired. She can say so much in so few words, and sometimes with a dry humor:
"When I was five years old my parents all of a sudden produced a baby boy, which my mother said was what I had always wanted. Where she got this idea I did not know. She did quite a bit of elaborating on it, all fictitious but hard to counter."
Wow. I feel like I've learned so much about this mother-daughter scenario, and it's just one short paragraph.
Munro does sad amazingly well too, without sentimentality or pathos. There are characters in this book who broke my heart. (Don't worry, no spoilers.)
I have to admit I think this is kind of an odd selection for the Tournament of Books. Sadly, I don't think it will progress very far, although it's a wonderful book, but it's not as shiny or likely to be as argued-over (I could be wrong, though) as some of the other finalists. But it also makes me wonder if Munro is ever discussed as a potential Nobel winner. She certainly has brought to life a very specific time and place.