Colleagues of writer Alice Munro say they knew about abuse in her family

Robert Thacker, a Canadian academic and author of “Alice Munro: Writing Her Lives,” a biography of the late Nobel Prize-winning writer, said he expected it would happen: Eventually, the public would learn the story of how Munro’s husband, Gerald Fremlin, sexually abused one of her daughters, Andrea Robin Skinner, starting when Skinner was 9 years old.

“I knew this day would come,” Thacker told The Washington Post on Monday, adding later, “I knew it would come out, and I knew I would have these kinds of conversations.”

In an op-ed published Sunday in the Toronto Star, Skinner described her experience and Munro’s unsympathetic reaction when Skinner told her about the abuse in 1992. A story by two reporters for the newspaper described how Fremlin had written letters admitting to the abuse and pleaded guilty to sexual assault in 2005. Munro remained married to Fremlin, who died in 2013.

The story shocked much of the literary world, which mourned Munro extensively with glowing tributes after her death in May at the age of 92.

“I didn’t learn the details of this until everyone else was doing it, though I had been getting hints shortly before this past weekend. Horrifying,” Canadian novelist Margaret Atwood told The Post in an email.

However, some were not surprised by the revelations.

“As Alice’s Canadian editor and publisher, I was aware that Alice and Andrea had been estranged for a number of years,” Douglas Gibson wrote in an email in response to an interview request from The Post. “In 2005, the problem became clear when Gerry Fremlin’s full nefarious role was revealed, but I have nothing to add to this tragic family story and have no further comment to make.”

Thacker said Skinner wrote to him about her experience in 2005, after she contacted police about Fremlin and when Thacker’s book went to press. He decided not to do anything with the information.

“She was clearly hoping — or at least she was hoping at the time — that I would go public,” he told The Post on Monday. “I wasn’t prepared for that. And the reason I wasn’t prepared for that is because it wasn’t that kind of book. I wasn’t writing a revealing biography. And I’ve lived long enough to know that things happen in families that they don’t want to talk about and they want to keep in families.”

Thacker said he and Munro discussed the matter in 2008, when they met at a restaurant for an interview. Munro asked him to turn off his recorder. He declined to describe the conversation in detail, but said Munro told him she had told Munro about the abuse in 1992, when Skinner was 25. Munro said she left Fremlin for a time and eventually decided to return.

“In a case like this, I was not prepared for an investigation,” Thacker said, later adding: “The term she used was that she was ‘devastated.’ And she used to be destroyed. It wasn’t something she did. It was something He did.”

According to Thacker, it was widely believed that she drew on events in her life for her 1993 story “Vandals,” about her life. a woman who represses the knowledge that her partner sexually abused children: “Those of us who [study] Alice, or have [studied] Alice, I’ve always thought this story is directly related to the whole issue.”

Skinner, who did not respond to The Post’s request for comment, wrote in her op-ed that her mother’s fame meant the silence about her abuse extended beyond her family: “Many influential people learned something of my story but continued to support and add to a narrative they knew was false.”

Others who worked closely with Munro knew of Skinner’s experience, Thacker said: “People certainly knew she had a burden.” He declined to name specific people, but said he had spoken with a colleague about their expectation that Munro’s family secret would be shared with the world, and that they both decided to confirm that they had known about it before.

Penguin Random House Canada did not respond to a request for comment. When contacted by The Post, Deborah Treisman, fiction editor of The New Yorker since 2003, declined to comment.

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