The Flats Road by Alice Munro, 1971
The magic trick:
Establishing a state of normalcy during the story’s first third
Nothing happens during the first third of this story. Don’t worry; that’s a good thing. Munro takes her time and eases the reader into the peculiar world of rural Canada where her young protagonist, Del, lives with her family. This tactic might not appeal to the action-hungry reader, but it proves an important foundation. The second third of the story unsettles the normalcy Munro has established, and the final third assesses the damage. The story’s action only works in coordination with what the early section established. And that’s quite a trick on Munro’s part.
Sitting in his favorite chair just inside our kitchen door – he would sit there as if he hardly had time to sit down, did not want to trouble anybody, would be off in a minute – Uncle Benny was always full of news about some business venture, always an extraordinary one, by which people not very far away, down in the south of the country or as near by as Grantly Township, were making preposterous sums of money. They raised chinchilla rabbits. They bred budgie birds. They made ten thousand dollars a year and barely had to work for it. Probably the reason he kept on working for my father, though he had never worked steadily at any other job, was that my father raised silver foxes, and there was in such a business something precarious and unusual, some glamorous and ghostly, never realized, hope of fortune.