Subscribe to Christianity Today
Family Furnishings: Selected Stories, 1995-2014
640 pp., 30.00
Linda McCullough Moore
Alice Munro's Overarching Tale
My first impulse after reading Family Furnishings: Selected Stories 1995-2014, by Alice Munro, winner of the 2013 Nobel Prize in Literature, was to reread the six collections from which these two dozen stories were chosen. But it's a slippery slope. I mean, how arbitrary to not again revisit—multiple readings of each collection surely warrant the redundancy—all 15 collections, beginning with Dance of the Happy Shades, first published in 1968. Here is the stuff of If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, that classic treatise on the inevitability of one thing's leading to another: each of Munro's stories serving as a reminder of my need for more.
And so it is that this recurring prompting leads me to a new and I think warranted conclusion: the reader who has missed Alice Munro by saying he doesn't read short stories might now be in the market for a new excuse. The longer I read her work, the more I think she is a novelist, in the truest sense, and with her retirement—imposed now by declining health—her novel is complete … in 15 volumes. There is a sense in which the work of Alice Munro is neither unrelated narratives nor disconnected stories, but rather parts making up a whole.
"And what is the plot of this novel?" the marketing department must immediately ask. They do get all the speaking parts these days, and surely won't accept the one word, "Life," in answer. Happily, one of her stories might be made to answer nicely. If we can see worlds in grains of sand, surely we might enter Munro's epic novel through a single story—say "The Love of a Good Woman," the first in this new collection—and allow a few excerpts from this piece to initiate us into the larger story Munro tells.
This tale begins where all good sagas do, in a place "that had never amounted to much"—our common home—but, she tells us, "even in the millpond there is a good deal of force ...