‘Family Furnishings’ by Alice Munro

Family Furnishings by Alice Munro, 2001

The magic trick:

Giving us a narrator who is neither hero nor villain

Another knockout Munro story.

This one paints the narrator in a curious light. She’s the narrator. It’s her point of view. So, of course, we’re inclined to take her side for the most part. She is the hero of the tale, after all.

But we also see that she’s behaving selfishly. Not in any kind of monstrous way. But in the way that 20-year-olds who think they can go conquer the world act.

You read this wishing that maybe she would just be a little bit nicer to her family. Give them more time.

But those negative feelings are complicated by the fact that it’s clear that the narrator – writing with some distance of time from the main events of the story – wishes she’d done the same too.

Meanwhile, we see a couple of incidents where the narrator is the victim of what would seem unfairly harsh judgments from other characters.

If I’m making it sound complicated, then I’m probably explaining it well. It is complicated. I think we read stories expecting clearly delineated good and bad, and, even more than that, we look for clean cause-and-effect reactions. Our narrator is going to disappoint you on all those fronts.

She’s not good or bad. The things that happen aren’t directly because of the way she acts. The story does not ask the reader to feel one way or another about any of it.

And that’s quite a trick on Munro’s part.

The selection:

Alfrida seemed to guess something of what I was thinking.

“I know I’ve got far too much stuff in here,” she said. “But it’s my parents’ stuff. It’s family furnishings, and I couldn’t let it go.”

I had never thought of her as having parents.

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