Alfrida’s apartment is crowded.

Alice Munro Hateship Small“’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 them go.’

The story about her parents, the loss of her mother, the other family with whom she visits only half-heartedly after she has moved to the city: all of that part of Alfrida’s life is served to the table gradually for readers to receive.

But her history is not presented like a buffet, all laid out and there for the readers’ taking.

Rather, it’s a series of servings, very small portions, the ordering unpredictable, and the silverware is heavy and practical but the dishes are sleek and modern.

Contradictions abound. Expectations are thwarted.

In many ways, this seems the quintessential Alice Munro story: a hopscotch board of storytelling with familiar characters and themes.

A mother no longer simply inconvenienced by illness but with a destiny defined by it.

A daughter whose responsibilities at home increase as her mother’s health declines and whose bookishness sets her apart.

A father who could have stepped out of “Night” and into the role of the patriarch in “Royal Beatings”.

A writer who orders and arranges as in “Cortes Island”.

The complications of family reminiscent of “Chaddeleys and Flemings”.

And the sharp tension between town and country so sharply defined by the breakfast menu in “Half a Grapefruit”.

Alfrida’s apartment is not what the narrator expects. She has imagined it to be glamorous, the cornerstone of Alfrida’s life in the City.

Not the Big City. But the Small City. But, still, the City.

In the narrator’s experience, this is not simply a geographic description, but a much broader description.

“It meant something more abstract that could be repeated over and over, something like a hive of bees, stormy but organized, not useless or deluded exactly, but disturbing and sometimes dangerous.”

But Alfrida’s apartment, though perhaps stormy and disorganized, appears neither disturbing nor dangerous. In fact, it is a lot like home.

It looks like the Not-City. Perhaps, a ramshackle. But, a failure?

“Failures in life—failures of luck, of health, of finances—all struck him as lapses, and his resolute approval of me did not extend to my ramshackle background.”

Here, in “Family Furnishings”, one of the most celebrated stories in this collection, Alice Munro allows readers to sample her most beloved family recipes.

What, on the menu, most appeals to you as a reader of this story?

Note: This is part of a series of posts on Alice Munro’s stories in Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage, as I read through her work-to-date. She is one of my MRE authors and this is the third story in this collection. Please feel free to check the schedule and join in, for the series, or for a single story. Next week: “Comfort”.

Note: There are spoilers in the comments below.