In Alice Munro’s short story “Friend of My Youth”, one wonders whether the protagonist, Flora, is stronger than it may appear or a complete door mat for people to walk over. After two betrayals by the same man, she continues to live with him and his wife on Flora’s own farm and continues to put on a smile. A smile that is suppose to reflect the beliefs of her “weird religion”, a Cameronian Presbyterian sect.
The unique aspect to this story’s structure comes in the way it is told or rather retold. The daughter of a teacher friend that lived with Flora narrates the story as her mother told it to her. This narration “once removed” gives the story an historical effect. Something that makes Flora’s story seem more of a story of women through the ages as opposed to an isolated incident. This also provides a way for the reader to understand Flora’s plight even if Flora herself doesn’t.
And as usual, Alice Munro, handles the story-telling masterfully. When the second wife, takes Flora’s cherished few books and burns them, my blood boiled even if Flora’s didn’t:
She sees the smoke rise out of the incinerator in the yard, where her books are burning. Those smelly old books, as Audrey has called them. Words and pages, the ominous dark spines. The elect, the damned, the slim hopes, the mighty torments – up in smoke. There was the ending.
This story is included in Alice Munro’s collection Carried Away: A Selection of Stories that I’ve borrowed from my public library.