Alice Munro's daughter says stepfather abused her but late author stood by him

By Anna Mehler Paperny

TORONTO (Reuters) - The daughter of late Canadian writer Alice Munro said that she was sexually abused as a child by her stepfather and that her mother stood by her husband when she was told of the abuse.

Andrea Robin Skinner wrote in the Toronto Star on Sunday that the abuse began when she visited her mother in a small town in the Canadian province of Ontario in the summer of 1976. She had been living elsewhere with her biological father.

"One night, while she was away, her husband, my stepfather, Gerald Fremlin, climbed into the bed where I was sleeping and sexually assaulted me. I was nine years old," Skinner wrote in the essay published in the newspaper.

When Skinner finally told her mother about the abuse, she wrote, Munro reacted "as if she had learned of an infidelity." The author left but later returned to her husband and stayed with him until his death in 2013. Alice Munro and her daughter became estranged.

Munro, who died earlier this year at 92, was one of Canada's most acclaimed authors. She won the Nobel Prize for Literature and the International Man Booker, two of the world's most prestigious literary prizes.

Munro has been celebrated for her short stories and the way she portrayed the lives of seemingly ordinary girls and women.

Munro's Books, the Victoria, British Columbia, store that Munro and her former husband Jim - Skinner's father - started in 1963, said in a statement it "unequivocally supports" Skinner.

"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," wrote the store, which has been independently owned since 2014.

When the abuse began Skinner was "a happy child — active and curious — who had only just realized I couldn't grow up to be a sheep-herding dog, a great disappointment, as I loved both dogs and sheep," Skinner wrote.

Later, she wrote, Fremlin tried to make her play a game called "show me," and made her tell him about her "sex life" as he told her about his.

Over years, "when I was alone with Fremlin, he made lewd jokes, exposed himself during car rides, told me about the little girls in the neighbourhood he liked, and described my mother's sexual needs," Skinner said.

The abuse haunted her, Skinner wrote. She suffered migraines and bulimia and struggled in university.

In 2005, with his biography of Munro then in production, Robert Thacker got an email from Skinner outlining the abuse, he said in an interview on Monday.

Thacker said that he decided to leave out the allegations from his book, "Alice Munro: Writing Her Lives."

"I knew about it but I also said I wasn't going to do anything because I didn't want to," he said. "It's a different kind of a book."

Years later, he said, Munro brought it up herself while speaking with him.

"What she said was how devastating it all was," Thacker said. "She hadn't gotten over it and frankly I don't think she ever did." He said he was certain that she knew how much she had hurt her daughter.

Munro's publisher McClelland & Stewart did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Monday.

(Reporting by Anna Mehler Paperny in Toronto; Editing by Frank McGurty and Rosalba O'Brien)