Family Furnishings: Selected Stories, 1995-2014

Family Furnishings: Selected Stories, 1995-2014

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by Alice Munro
     
 

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From the recipient of the 2013 Nobel Prize in Literature-perhaps our most beloved author-a new selection of her peerless short fiction, gathered from the collections of the last two decades, a companion volume to Selected Stories (1968-1994).

By all accounts, no Nobel Prize in recent years has garnered the enthusiastic reception that Alice Munro's

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Overview

From the recipient of the 2013 Nobel Prize in Literature-perhaps our most beloved author-a new selection of her peerless short fiction, gathered from the collections of the last two decades, a companion volume to Selected Stories (1968-1994).

By all accounts, no Nobel Prize in recent years has garnered the enthusiastic reception that Alice Munro's has, and in its wake, her reputation and readership has skyrocketed worldwide. Now, Family Furnishings will bring us twenty-five of her most accomplished, most powerfully affecting stories, most of them set in the territory she has so brilliantly made her own: the small towns and flatlands of southwestern Ontario. Sublty honed with the author's hallmark precision, grace, and compassion, these stories illuminate the ordinary but quite extraordinary particularity in the lives of men, women, and children as they discover sex, fall in love, part, quarrel, head out into the unknown, suffer defeat, find a way to be in the world. As the Nobel Prize presentation speech reads in part: "Reading one of Alice Munro's texts is like watching a cat walk across a laid dinner table. A brief short story can often cover decades, summarizing a life, as she moves deftly between different periods. No wonder Alice Munro is often able to say more in thirty pages than an ordinary novelist is capable of in three hundred. She is a virtuoso of the elliptical and…the master of the contemporary short story."

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Terrence Rafferty
…the sort of state these stories put their readers in…[is] a neither-here-nor-there reverie in which people and landscapes zip by quickly and yet with an unusual clarity, reminding you of things you thought you'd forgotten or making you wonder how other people, in other places, live their lives. A few of Munro's tales…are told in the first person and feel autobiographical, but more typically her stories seem to come from the pure curiosity of looking out the window of the bus. What's it like to be that person, sitting on that bench? How does it feel to go home to that house every night?…Even if you've read the stories in Family Furnishings before, they still spring surprises, large and small…Because Munro's people often act unpredictably—they wind up doing things they hadn't known they were going to do, and startle themselves—the stories, even on repeated readings, retain their original suspense, their sense that anything can happen. You may realize that you'd forgotten how various Munro's fiction is, how many different kinds of stories she has grabbed out of the air over the years.
Kirkus Reviews
★ 2014-09-30
Top-shelf collection by Canadian Nobelist Munro, perhaps the best writer of short stories in English today.Certainly few, if any, narrators are less trustworthy than Munro's; among many other things, she is the ascended master of quiet betrayals, withheld information and unforeseeable reversals of fortune. "We say of some things that they can't be forgiven," says the thoughtful narrator of "Dear Life," the closing story, "or that we will never forgive ourselves. But we do—we do it all the time." Yes, we do, but not without torment. Fiona, the protagonist of "The Bear Came Over the Mountain," the stunning story that is the heart of Sarah Polley's great film Away From Her, cannot be blamed for causing the pain she does: Dementia has overtaken her, but even so, her husband can't help but wonder whether "she isn't putting on some kind of a charade." People put on acts, of course, all the time, and Munro seems to be telling us (as at the very opening of the sly story "The Eye") that we bamboozle each other from the moment we can understand language—and not necessarily for any malicious reasons. Munro packs plenty of compact but lethal punches, many of them hidden in seemingly gentle words: "I have not kept up with Charlene. I don't even remember how we said good-bye." Well, yes, she does, because "[y]ou expected things to end," and all that catches up to the chief player in "Child's Play" when she's called upon to say goodbye again. As is true of so many of Munro's tales, taken straight from the pages of quotidian life, its end is heartbreaking, tragic, not a little mysterious—and entirely unexpected. In fact, all that can be expected from these economical, expertly told stories is that they're near peerless, modern literary fiction at its very best.
From the Publisher
“What a stunning, subtle and sympathetic explorer of the heart Munro is.” —The Washington Post

“Generations to come will relish and study Family Furnishings. . . . A superb introduction for those new to her work, and a reminder to longtime fans that Munro is a writer to be cherished.” —NPR

“Brilliant. . . . In the simplest of words, and with the greatest of power, she makes us see and hear an ‘unremarkable’ scene we will never forget.” —The New York Review of Books 
 
“Turn to just about any page and you’ll discover a brilliant insight into human behavior. . . . Family Furnishings reminds us that Munro is our greatest contemporary short story writer.” —USA Today

“[An] extraordinary collection. . . . Munro seems to have gotten hold of our own darkest feelings about the people in our lives and transformed them, gloriously, into art.” —San Francisco Chronicle
 
“The preeminent short-fiction writer of her time. . . . Astonishing. . . . Stunning. . . . Remind[s] us that fiction, at its most profound and moving, is about human endurance, which makes it very much a reflection of reality.” —Los Angeles Times
 
“Munro’s literary genius for the short-story form has been widely deemed incomparable. The Canadian writer captures those small moments that reverberate through ordinary lives in meticulous prose. Her economy in words fashions a language that pierces the heart.” —New York Daily News
 
“These are human stories, and great ones. . . . Nobody can tell a tale, spin a character, break a heart, the way Alice Munro can.” —Minneapolis Star Tribune
 
“Munro may have arrived at the end of her career, but her stories keep changing, as works of art tend to do. . . . Because Munro’s people often act unpredictably—they wind up doing things they hadn’t known they were going to do and startle themselves—the stories, even on repeated readings, retain their original suspense, their sense that anything can happen.” —The New York Times Book Review
 
“If there’s literary pleasure greater than reading Alice Munro, it must be rereading Alice Munro.” —The Seattle Times
 
“It is no exaggeration to state that Munro’s short stories are among the finest that have ever been written. She’s sure to endure alongside Poe, Hemingway and O’Connor. . . . She’s that rare writer who is able to match her early career achievements and even top them.” —The Dallas Morning News
 
“A writer who slowly fashioned a house of fiction large enough for both a room of her own and all of her family furnishings—ensuring that she herself had space to maneuver while others still had plenty of space to stretch out and live. Those others include us, her very lucky readers.” — The Philadelphia Inquirer  
 
“Munro’s stories are remarkable for their evocation of places and the people who live there, for ambiguities, their ellipses, and their deftness. Her prose is lucid: ranging from delicacy to forthright attack, sometimes witty, ironic.” —The Washington Times

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781101874103
Publisher:
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
11/11/2014
Pages:
640
Sales rank:
213,308
Product dimensions:
6.40(w) x 9.40(h) x 1.80(d)

Read an Excerpt

Family Furnishings

Selected Stories, 1995-2014


By Alice Munro

Random House LLC

Copyright © 2014 Alice Munro
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-101-87410-3


CHAPTER 1

Too Much Happiness

Many persons who have not studied mathematics confuse it with arithmetic and consider it a dry and arid science. Actually, however, this science requires great fantasy.

—Sophia Kovalevsky

On the first day of January, in the year 1891, a small woman and a large man are walking in the Old Cemetery, in Genoa. Both of them are around forty years old. The woman has a childishly large head, with a thicket of dark curls, and her expression is eager, faintly pleading. Her face has begun to look worn. The man is immense. He weighs 285 pounds, distributed over a large frame, and being Russian, he is often referred to as a bear, also as a Cossack. At present he is crouching over tombstones and writing in his notebook, collecting inscriptions and puzzling over abbreviations not immediately clear to him, though he speaks Russian, French, English, Italian, and has an understanding of classical and medieval Latin. His knowledge is as expansive as his physique, and though his speciality is governmental law, he is capable of lecturing on the growth of contemporary political institutions in America, the peculiarities of society in Russia and the West, and the laws and practices of ancient empires. But he is not a pedant. He is witty and popular, at ease on various levels, and able to live a most comfortable life, due to his properties near Kharkov. He has, however, been forbidden to hold an academic post in Russia, because of being a Liberal.

His name suits him. Maksim. Maksim Maksimovich Kovalevsky.

The woman with him is also a Kovalevsky. She was married to a distant cousin of his, but is now a widow.

She speaks to him teasingly.

"You know that one of us will die," she says. "One of us will die this year."

Only half listening, he asks her, Why is that?

"Because we have gone walking in a graveyard on the first day of the New Year."

"Indeed."

"There are still a few things you don't know," she says in her pert but anxious way. "I knew that before I was eight years old."

"Girls spend more time with kitchen maids and boys in the stables—I suppose that is why."

"Boys in the stables do not hear about death?"

"Not so much. Concentration is on other things."

There is snow that day but it is soft. They leave melted, black footprints where they've walked.

She met him for the first time in 1888. He had come to Stockholm to advise on the foundation of a school of social sciences. Their shared nationality, going so far as a shared family name, would have thrown them together even if there was no particular attraction. She would have had a responsibility to entertain and generally take care of a fellow Liberal, unwelcome at home.

But that turned out to be no duty at all. They flew at each other as if they had indeed been long-lost relatives. A torrent of jokes and questions followed, an immediate understanding, a rich gabble of Russian, as if the languages of Western Europe had been flimsy formal cages in which they had been too long confined, or paltry substitutes for true human speech. Their behavior, as well, soon overflowed the proprieties of Stockholm. He stayed late at her apartment. She went alone to lunch with him at his hotel. When he hurt his leg in a mishap on the ice, she helped him with the soaking and dressing and, what was more, she told people about it. She was so sure of herself then, and especially sure of him. She wrote a description of him to a friend, borrowing from De Musset.

He is very joyful, and at the same time very gloomy—
Disagreeable neighbor, excellent comrade—
Extremely light-minded, and yet very affected—
Indignantly naïve, nevertheless very blasé—
Terribly sincere, and at the same time very sly.


And at the end she wrote, "A real Russian, he is, into the bargain."

Fat Maksim, she called him then.

"I have never been so tempted to write romances, as when with Fat Maksim."

And "He takes up too much room, on the divan and in one's mind. It is simply impossible for me, in his presence, to think of anything but him."

This was at the very time when she should have been working day and night, preparing her submission for the Bordin Prize. "I am neglecting not only my Functions but my Elliptic Integrals and my Rigid Body," she joked to her fellow mathematician, Mittag-Leffler, who persuaded Maksim that it was time to go and deliver lectures in Uppsala for a while. She tore herself from thoughts of him, from daydreams, back to the movement of rigid bodies and the solution of the so-called mermaid problem by the use of theta functions with two independent variables. She worked desperately but happily, because he was still in the back of her mind. When he returned she was worn out but triumphant. Two triumphs—her paper ready for its last polishing and anonymous submission; her lover growling but cheerful, eagerly returned from his banishment and giving every indication, as she thought, that he intended to make her the woman of his life.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Family Furnishings by Alice Munro. Copyright © 2014 Alice Munro. Excerpted by permission of Random House LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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