Daughter of Alice Munro Speaks Out About Abuse

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Nobel Award-winning Canadian author Alice Munro died on May 13th at 92 years old. The literary world responded with news stories praising her work and legacy. Weeks later, Andrea Robin Skinner, the youngest daughter of Munro, has shared her story about being sexually abused by her stepfather, Gerald Fremlin, as a child. When she told her mother as an adult, in a letter where she shared “I have been afraid all my life that you would blame me for what happened,” Alice Munro said Skinner had told her “too late” and that it was between her Fremlin. Munro temporarily moved out, but stayed married to her husband and ended up moving back in with him soon after, saying “our misogynistic culture was to blame if [Skinner] expected her to deny her own needs, sacrifice for her children, and make up for the failings of men.”

Fremlin blamed Skinner for the abuse, calling her a “homewrecker” at nine years old.

When Skinner had her first children in 2002, she cut off contact with Fremlin and Munro, not wanting him to be in her children’s lives. She kept this estrangement quiet until she read a 2004 New York Times interview with Alice Munro in which she talked about Fremlin as the love of her life, regretting that they hadn’t gotten together even sooner. In that interview, Munro claimed to be “close today with her three daughters” and her grandchildren, and joked that her daughters get together “mostly to discuss me.”

This prompted Skinner to press charges against Fremlin, tired of keeping this reality to herself and wanting “some record of the truth, some public proof that I hadn’t deserved what had happened to me.” In 2005, Fremlin plead guilty to indecent assault and received two year’s probation. Munro stayed with Fremlin until his death in 2013.

Skinner hoped that pressing charges would shed light on her mother’s complicity in her abuse, and that it would “become part of the stories people tell about my mother. I never wanted to see another interview, biography or event that didn’t wrestle with the reality of what had happened to me, and with the fact that my mother, confronted with the truth of what had happened, chose to stay with, and protect, my abuser.”

Mothers and Daughters coverMothers and Daughters cover

Fremlin’s abuse and Munro choosing to stay with him was an open secret in the literary world, but it wasn’t discussed publicly. Alice Munro’s biographer Robert Thacker was contacted by Skinner directly, but didn’t include the allegations in his book, seeing it as not his place to make public. Skinner’s sister Sheila Munro released her own memoir about her complicated relationship with Alice Munro as a mother in 2001, but did not include Skinner’s abuse.

Now that Skinner has written about her own story, authors and other literary figures are sharing their reactions to the news. Author Jess Row said, “The Alice Munro news is so completely and tragically consistent with the world she evoked in her stories—all those young people betrayed and sabotaged by adults who were supposed to care for them.”

Brandon Taylor shared his support for Skinner: “I’m so in awe of her courage,” saying it is “personally devastating in that I recognize so much of my own story and history in her experience.”

Munro Books, a bookstore started by Alice and Jim Munro that is now employee-owned, released a statement standing with Skinner:

“Munro’s Books unequivocally supports Andrea Robin Skinner as she publicly shares her story of her sexual abuse as a child. Learning the details of Andrea’s experience has been heartbreaking for all of us here at Munro’s Books. Along with so many readers and writers, we will need time to absorb this news and the impact it may have on the legacy of Alice Munro, whose work and ties to the store we have previously celebrated.”

Skinner and her siblings made their own statement thanking Munro Books for their support and asking that the bookstore not be contacted with questions about the family.

Andrea Robin Skinner hopes that sharing her story will bring attention to how those who speak out about their abuse are often treated: “I want so much for my personal story to focus on patterns of silencing, the tendency to do that in families and societies.”

You can read more about this story at Time.

Find more news and stories of interest from the book world in Breaking in Books.

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