Julia Ridley Smith, The Sum of Trifles
When Julia Ridley Smith’s parents died, they left behind a virtual museum of furniture, books, art, and artifacts. Between the contents of their home, the stock from their North Carolina antiques shop, and the ephemera of two lives lived, Smith faced a monumental task. What would she do with her parents’ possessions?
Smith’s wise and moving memoir in essays, The Sum of Trifles, peels back the layers of meaning surrounding specific objects her parents owned, from an eighteenth-century miniature to her father’s prosthetics. A vintage hi-fi provides a view of her often tense relationship with her father, whose love of jazz kindled her own artistic impulse. A Japanese screen embodies her mother’s principles of good taste and good manners, while an antebellum quilt prompts Smith to grapple with her family’s slaveholding legacy. Along the way, she turns to literature that illuminates how her inheritance shaped her notions of identity and purpose.
The Sum of Trifles offers up dark humor and raw feeling, mixed with an erudite streak. It’s a curious, thoughtful look at how we live in and with our material culture and how we face our losses as we decide what to keep and what to let go.
"Julia Ridley Smith’s Sum of Trifles is a beautifully crafted, elegiac journey. These essays―memories and mysteries of the author's eccentric parents and their eclectic collections, as well as moving meditations on writing, marriage, and motherhood―are rich and compelling. A wonderful exploration of grief and the joy left behind." -- Jill McCorkle, author of Hieroglyphics
"In gilding the rifts, you ascribe beauty to the brokenness, inviting anyone to see how, treated tenderly, it can shine.' Julia Ridley Smith is referring here to an object in need of mending, but the sentence describes everything that is true and raw and generous and emotionally satisfying about this book. Smith’s knowledge that loss can only be understood through form makes this the best book I have ever read about grief. It helps a lot that I did not read one page without intelligence and humor, and more often than not, both at once." -- Michael Parker, author of Prairie Fever
JULIA RIDLEY SMITH is the 2021–22 Kenan Visiting Writer at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She has also taught creative writing and literature at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro. Her essays and short stories have appeared in Alaska Quarterly Review, Ecotone, Electric Literature, the New England Review, and the Southern Review, among other publications. She lives in Greensboro, North Carolina.