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Alice Munro’s Daughter Alleges Her Husband Abused Her

Alice Munro’s Daughter Alleges Her Husband Abused Her
Alice Munro’s Daughter Alleges Her Husband Abused Her

TORONTO (AP) — The daughter of the late Nobel laureate Alice Munro has accused the author’s second husband, Gerard Fremlin, of sexual abuse, saying her mother stayed with him because she “loved him too much” to leave.

TORONTO (AP) — The daughter of the late Nobel laureate Alice Munro has accused the author’s second husband, Gerard Fremlin, of sexual abuse, saying her mother stayed with him because she “loved him too much” to leave.

Munro, who died in May at the age of 92, was one of the world’s most celebrated and beloved writers and a source of enduring pride for her native Canada, where the author’s legacy is now being reckoned with.

Andrea Robin Skinner, Munro’s daughter with her first husband, James Munro, wrote in an essay published in the Toronto Star that Fremlin sexually abused her in the mid-1970s — when she was 9 — and continued to harass and abuse her until she was a teenager. Skinner, whose essay was published Sunday, wrote that she told the author about Fremlin’s abuse in her 20s. Munro left her husband for a time but eventually returned and was still with him when he died in 2013.

“She reacted exactly as I had feared, as if she had been told of an infidelity,” Skinner wrote. “She said she had been ‘told too late,’ that she loved him too much, and that our misogynistic culture was to blame if I expected her to deny her own needs, sacrifice for her children, and make up for the shortcomings of men. She was adamant that whatever had happened was between me and my stepfather. It had nothing to do with her.”

Skinner wrote that this alienated her from her mother and siblings. Shortly after The New York Times published a story in 2004 in which Munro raved about Fremlin, Skinner decided to contact the Ontario Provincial Police and gave them letters in which Fremlin had admitted to abusing her, the Toronto Star reported in an accompanying news story also published Sunday. At age 80, he pleaded guilty to one count of sexual assault and received a suspended sentence — a sentence that was not widely reported for nearly two decades.

The news shocked and saddened the literary world, although some readers – and Skinner herself – pointed out parallels in the work of the author, for which she won the Nobel Prize in 2013 and was called a “master of the contemporary short story” by the jury.

Author Margaret Atwood, a Canadian and close friend of Munro, told the Star that she only learned of Skinner’s story after Fremlin died and Munro was battling dementia.

“The kids probably wondered why she stayed with him,” Atwood said. “The only thing I can add is that she wasn’t very adept at real (practical) life. She wasn’t very interested in cooking or gardening or anything like that. I think she saw it more as a break than as therapy, as some people do.”

The owners of Munro’s Books, a prominent independent store in Victoria, British Columbia, released a statement Monday expressing support for Skinner and calling her story “heartbreaking.” The author founded the store in 1963 with his first husband and Skinner’s father, James Munro, who continued to run the shop after their divorce in 1971. He turned the store over to a staff of four two years before his death in 2016.

“Along with so many readers and writers, we need time to process this news and the impact it may have on the legacy of Alice Munro, whose work and connections with the store we have previously celebrated,” the store said in a statement issued Monday.

Skinner wrote in her account that she had told her father, with whom she lived most of the year, about the first attack, but that he had told her not to tell her mother and continued to send her to Munro and Fremlin in the summers.

“The current store owners have become part of our family’s healing and have responded positively to revelations like Andrea’s,” said a statement from Skinner and other family members posted on the store’s website. “We fully support the owners and staff of Munro’s Books as they chart a new future.”

Although Skinner was estranged from her siblings for years, they have since reconciled, and her family spoke to the Toronto Star in support of Skinner. While they felt the world needed to know about the cover-up and that sexual assault needed to be talked about, the Star reported, Munro’s children believe her acclaimed literary reputation is well deserved.

“I still think she’s such a great writer — she deserved the Nobel Prize,” daughter Sheila Munro told the Star. “She dedicated her life to it and she manifested this amazing talent and imagination. And that’s really all she wanted to do in life. To put those stories on paper and get them out there.”

Sheila Munro, also an author, wrote about her mother in the 2002 book “Lives of Mothers & Daughters: Growing Up With Alice Munro,” a project suggested by Alice Munro. Sheila makes no reference to Skinner’s abuse, but notes that her mother often invoked her private life and that she had difficulty separating Munro’s fiction “from the reality of what was actually happening.”

Munro biographer Robert Thacker noted to The Associated Press that Munro stories like “Silence” and “Runaway” center on estranged children. In “Vandals,” a woman mourns the loss of her former boyfriend, Ladner, an unstable war veteran who, we learn, assaulted his young neighbor, Liza.

“As Ladner seized Liza and pressed himself against her, she felt a deep sense of danger within her, a mechanical spluttering,” Munro wrote, “as if he would exhaust himself in one flash of light and nothing would be left but black smoke, burnt odors, and torn wires.”

Thacker, whose “Alice Munro: Writing Her Lives” was released in 2005 — the same year Fremlin was convicted — told the AP that he had long known about Fremlin’s abuse but left it out of his book because it was a “scholarly analysis of her career.”

“I expected there would be repercussions at some point,” Thacker said, adding that he had even spoken to the author about it. “I don’t want to go into details, but it destroyed the family. It was devastating in many ways. And it was something she talked about extensively.”

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Italy reported from New York.

Rob Gillies and Hillel Italie, The Associated Press