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Family Furnishings
Cover of Family Furnishings
Family Furnishings
Selected Stories, 1995-2014
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From the winner of the 2013 Nobel Prize in Literature--and one of our most beloved writers--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).

Family Furnishings brings us twenty-four of Alice Munro's most accomplished, most powerfully affecting stories, many of them set in the territory she has so brilliantly made her own: the small towns and flatlands of southwestern Ontario. Subtly honed with her hallmark precision, grace, and compassion, these stories illuminate the quotidian yet extraordinary particularity in the lives of men and women, parents and children, friends and lovers as they discover sex, fall in love, part, quarrel, suffer defeat, set off into the unknown, or find a way to be in the world.

Peopled with characters as real to us as we are to ourselves, Munro's stories encompass the fullness of human experience--from the wild exhilaration of first love, in "Passion," to the lengths a once-straying husband will go to make his wife happy as her memory fades, in "The Bear Came Over the Mountain." Other stories suggest the punishing consequences of leaving home ("Runaway") or leaving a marriage ("The Children Stay"). The part romantic love plays in one's existence is explored in "Too Much Happiness," based on the life of the noted nineteenth-century mathematician, Sophia Kovalevsky. And in stories that Munro has described as "closer to the truth than usual"--"Dear Life," "Working for a Living," and "Home" among them--we glimpse the author's own life.

As the Nobel Prize presentation speech says 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."


From the Hardcover edition.
From the winner of the 2013 Nobel Prize in Literature--and one of our most beloved writers--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).

Family Furnishings brings us twenty-four of Alice Munro's most accomplished, most powerfully affecting stories, many of them set in the territory she has so brilliantly made her own: the small towns and flatlands of southwestern Ontario. Subtly honed with her hallmark precision, grace, and compassion, these stories illuminate the quotidian yet extraordinary particularity in the lives of men and women, parents and children, friends and lovers as they discover sex, fall in love, part, quarrel, suffer defeat, set off into the unknown, or find a way to be in the world.

Peopled with characters as real to us as we are to ourselves, Munro's stories encompass the fullness of human experience--from the wild exhilaration of first love, in "Passion," to the lengths a once-straying husband will go to make his wife happy as her memory fades, in "The Bear Came Over the Mountain." Other stories suggest the punishing consequences of leaving home ("Runaway") or leaving a marriage ("The Children Stay"). The part romantic love plays in one's existence is explored in "Too Much Happiness," based on the life of the noted nineteenth-century mathematician, Sophia Kovalevsky. And in stories that Munro has described as "closer to the truth than usual"--"Dear Life," "Working for a Living," and "Home" among them--we glimpse the author's own life.

As the Nobel Prize presentation speech says 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."


From the Hardcover edition.
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  • From the book

    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 under- standing 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 sup- pose 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--...

About the Author-
  • Alice Munro grew up in Wingham, Ontario, and attended the University of Western Ontario. She has published thirteen collections of stories and a novel. During her distinguished career she has been the recipient of many awards, including two Giller Prizes, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the Man Booker International Prize. In 2013 she was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Her stories have appeared in The New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly, Harper's Magazine, The Paris Review, Granta, and many other publications, and her collections have been translated into thirteen languages. She lives in Port Hope, Canada, on Lake Ontario.

Reviews-
  • Hermione Lee, The New York Review of Books "What is special about Munro's lifelong use and reuse of 'family furnishings' and 'unremarkable local landscape'? Partly it is her exceptionally thorough and dedicated mining of the same ingredients, which endlessly come up rich and fresh, seem never to be used up, and however artfully shaped, feel 'real.' . . . And there's the heart of the magic: the voice of the speakers, and the voice of the narrator who has them speak. From the start, Munro has been brilliant at this, but in the late stories she has developed an extraordinary elastic fluency, a way of moving without any apparent effort between vividly distinctive local voices, and the sense of someone talking to themselves, or repeating a tale, and something more resonant and contemplative. . . . In the simplest of words, and with the greatest of power, she makes us see and hear an 'unremarkable' scene we will never forget."
  • Ron Hansen, The Washington Post "What a stunning, subtle and sympathetic explorer of the heart Munro is."
  • Terrence Rafferty, The New York Times Book Review "Munro may have arrived at the end of her career, but her stories keep changing as works of art tend to do . . . 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."
  • Tod Goldberg, Las Vegas Weekly "There is simply not a better writer of short fiction alive . . . Alice Munro may have written only short stories, but in each is the mystery of life, the questions of existence, where the answers are rarely answered cleanly."
  • Claire Hopley, The Washington Times "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."
  • Jane Ciabattari, NPR "Generations to come will relish and study Family Furnishings for clues to the fine craft and mysterious wizardry that make Munro's stories work. It's a fitting companion to her Selected Stories (1968-1994)--a superb introduction for those new to her work, and a reminder to longtime fans that Munro is a writer to be cherished."
  • Molly Antopol, San Francisco Chronicle "This extraordinary collection encompasses 24 short stories . . . There is something deeply satisfying about finishing one story and knowing that there are many more to savor. It is particularly illuminating to read the stories in the context of an insightful introduction by Jane Smiley . . . A companion volume to Selected Stories (1968-1994), this most recent effort returns to familiar territory for the Ontario native, but through the nuance and generosity with which she draws each character, feels vivid and fresh at every turn."
  • Michael Upchurch, The Seattle Times "If there's literary pleasure greater than reading Alice Munro, it must be rereading Alice Munro."
  • Brad Hooper, Booklist starred review "A blue-ribbon collection now joining her previous Selected Stories in presenting arguably the best of the sterling fiction this personally and professionally unpretentious Canadian has contributed to the world . . . In reading these stories--or rereading them, as will be the case for most of us--what is refreshingly obvious is that Munro has retained all the distinctive characteristics and qualities that set her fiction apart from the outset, including her apparently effortless but actually word-perfect style, her use of family history to inform the contemporary domestic situations she so vividly employs in her stories , the quotidian nature of her characters and their plights (which ultimately gives her characters their wide appeal), and the purposeful elimination of nonessential detail to permit a novel's worth of substance to comfortably fit into a short story's confined space."
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Selected Stories, 1995-2014
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