When Alice Munro won The Nobel Price short story lovers world wide felt gratified to see the genre recognized. Alice Munro has published 139 short stories and one novel, most set in her native rural Ontario. I was kindly recently give an advance review copy of her forthcoming collection of twenty five short stories published from 1995 to 2014, Family Furnishings. It is a generous collection, well over five hundred pages. I have read only a few stories by Alice Munro, I find it takes me a while to absorb one of her stories. In two or three good reading days I could easily read most five hundred page novels. I think reading all of the stories in Family Furnishings back to back would be a much more challenging task. I actually think one of the reasons many say they do they don't like short stories is that they require more mental energy to read, with any depth. To read a Munro short story requires and will reward your fullest powers. The gift of this collection will provide me a way to read more of her work.
The story is narrated by a young woman, seventeen, from rural Ontario. She talks enough about her family to let us see they are very hard working, used to be better off than they are now. They once had a "hired girl" but now they don't. We get a really good sense of her life from her descriptions of the various hired girls that worked for her family. The woman is off school for the summer so her mother finds her a job as a live in "hired girl" for a family who owns their own private island.
When the girl get to the island, owned by a couple, the woman owner tells her that the name of the island "Nausicaa" comes from Shakespeare. The girl knows it is actually a reference from The Odyssey but she is smart enough to keep quiet on that. When I heard that my feelings for the young woman deepened. There is just so much in this shorter than normal Munro work. We see a lot of what happens on the island, including a shocking revelation at the close of the story, one that took me totally by surprise. Munro is brilliant in her subtle use of class markers. In one very revealing moment the girl says where she is from it is considered OK for girls to stay in school, most will become teachers, but the masculinity of a boy who stays too long in school is suspect. Being too smart is not really an approved thing for anyone.
In one super interesting touch, the girl notices the woman reading Seven Gothic Tales. The woman notices the girl reading it and she tells her the book makes no sense to her. We are never told it was written by Isak Dinesen. The girl is fascinated by it.
There just is an amazing amount of life in the beautiful prose of "The Hired Girl". I have left out a lot.
Please share your favorite Munro stories with us.
Would you do a nonstop reading of this collection?