Alice Munro's daughter alleges sexual abuse by the late author's husband

FILE - Canadian author Alice Munro is photographed during an interview in Victoria, B.C. Tuesday, Dec.10, 2013. (Chad Hipolito/The Canadian Press via AP, File)

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

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

Andrea Robin Skinner, Munro's daughter with her first husband, James Munro, wrote in an essay published in the Toronto Star that Fremlin sexually assaulted her in the mid-1970s — when she was 9 — and continued to harass and abuse her until she became a teenager. Skinner, whose essay ran Sunday, wrote that in her 20s she told the author about Fremlin's abuse. 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 she would, as if she had learned of an infidelity,” Skinner wrote. “She said that she had been ‘told too late,’ 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 failings 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 she became estranged from her mother and siblings as a result. Shortly after The New York Times' magazine published a 2004 story in which Munro gushed about Fremlin, Skinner decided to contact Ontario Provincial Police and provided them letters in which Fremlin had admitted abusing her, the Toronto Star reported in a companion news story also published Sunday. At 80, he pleaded guilty to one count of indecent assault and received a suspended sentence — one that was not widely reported for nearly two decades.

The news stunned and grieved the literary world, although some readers — and Skinner herself — cited parallels in the author’s work, for which she was awarded the Nobel in 2013 and dubbed a “master of the contemporary short story” by the judges.

Author Margaret Atwood, a fellow Canadian and longtime friend of Munro's, told the Star that she didn’t know about Skinner’s story until after Fremlin had died and Munro was struggling with dementia.

“The kids probably wondered why she stayed with him,” Atwood said. “All I can add is that she wasn’t very adept at real (practical) life. She wasn’t very interested in cooking or gardening or any of that. She found it an interruption, I expect, rather than a therapy, as some do.”

The owners of Munro's Books, a prominent independent store in Victoria, British Columbia, issued a statement Monday expressing support for Skinner and calling her account “heartbreaking.” The author co-founded the store in 1963 with first husband and Skinner's father, James Munro, who continued to run the store after their 1971 divorce. Two years before his 2016 death, he turned the store over to four staff members.

"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,” the store said in a statement issued Monday.

In Skinner's account, she wrote that she had told her father — with whom she lived for most of the year — of the initial assault, but he told her not to tell her mother and continued to send her to Munro and Fremlin for summers.

“The current store owners have become part of our family’s healing, and are modelling a truly positive response to disclosures like Andrea’s,” reads a statement from Skinner and other family members posted on the store's website. “We wholly support the owners and staff of Munro’s Books as they chart a new future.”

Although Skinner spent many years estranged from her siblings, they have since reconciled and her family spoke with the Toronto Star in support of Skinner. While they felt the world needed to know of the coverup and that sexual violence must be talked about, the Star reported, Munro's children believe her acclaimed literary reputation is deserved.

“I still feel she’s such a great writer — she deserved the Nobel,” daughter Sheila Munro told the Star. “She devoted her life to it, and she manifested this amazing talent and imagination. And that’s all, really, she wanted to do in her life. Get those stories down and get them out.”

Sheila Munro, also an author, wrote of 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 the abuse of Skinner, but does observe that her mother often drew upon her private life and that she struggled to separate Munro's fiction “from the reality of what actually happened.”

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

“When Ladner grabbed Liza and squashed himself against her, she had a sense of deep danger inside him, a mechanical sputtering,” Munro wrote, “as if he would exhaust himself in one jab of light, and nothing would be left of but black smoke and burnt smells and frazzled wires.”

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

“I expected there to be repercussions one day,” said Thacker, who added that he even spoke to the author about it. “I don’t want to get into details but it wrecked the family. It was devastating in lots of ways. And it was something that she spoke deeply on.”

___

Italie reported from New York.