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.