Too Much Happiness

Too Much Happiness

by Alice Munro

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Overview

WINNER OF THE NOBEL PRIZE® IN LITERATURE 2013

Ten superb new stories by one of our most beloved and admired writers—the winner of the 2009 Man Booker International Prize.

With clarity and ease, Alice Munro once again renders complex, difficult events and emotions into stories about the unpredictable ways in which men and women accommodate and often transcend what happens in their lives.
 
In the first story a young wife and mother, suffering from the unbearable pain of losing her three children, gains solace from a most surprising source. In another, a young woman, in the aftermath of an unusual and humiliating seduction, reacts in a clever if less-than-admirable fashion. Other tales uncover the “deep-holes” in a marriage, the unsuspected cruelty of children, and, in the long title story, the yearnings of a nineteenth-century female mathematician.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780307390349
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 11/02/2010
Series: Vintage International Series
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 198,511
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Alice Munro grew up in Wingham, Ontario, and attended the University of Western Ontario. She has published thirteen collections of stories as well as a novel, Lives of Girls and Women, and two volumes of Selected Stories. During her distinguished career she has been the recipient of many awards and prizes, including three of Canada’s Governor General’s Literary Awards and two of its Giller Prizes, the Rea Award for the Short Story, the Lannan Literary Award, England’s W. H. Smith Book Award, 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, The Atlantic Monthly, The Paris Review, Granta, and other publications, and her collections have been translated into thirteen languages. She lives in Clinton, Ontario, near Lake Huron. 

Hometown:

Clinton, Ontario, and Comox, British Columbia

Date of Birth:

July 10, 1931

Place of Birth:

Wingham, Ontario, Canada

Education:

University of Western Ontario (no degree)

Read an Excerpt

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

i

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 understanding 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 suppose 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—
Extremely light-minded, and yet very affected—
Indignantly naïve, nevertheless very blasé—
Terribly sincere, and at the same time very sly.


And at the end she wrote, “A real Russian, he is, into the bargain.”

Fat Maksim, she called him then.

“I have never been so tempted to write romances, as when with Fat Maksim.”

And “He takes up too much room, on the divan and in one’s mind. It is simply impossible for me, in his presence, to think of anything but him.”

This was at the very time when she should have been working day and night, preparing her submission for the Bordin Prize. “I am neglecting not only my Functions but my Elliptic Integrals and my Rigid Body,” she joked to her fellow mathematician, Mittag-Leffler, who persuaded Maksim that it was time to go and deliver lectures in Uppsala for a while. She tore herself from thoughts of him, from daydreams, back to the movement of rigid bodies and the solution of the so-called mermaid problem by the use of theta functions with two independent variables. She worked desperately but happily, because he was still in the back of her mind. When he returned she was worn out but triumphant. Two triumphs—her paper ready for its last polishing and anonymous submission; her lover growling but cheerful, eagerly returned from his banishment and giving every indication, as she thought, that he intended to make her the woman of his life.

The Bordin Prize was what spoiled them. So Sophia believed. She herself was taken in by it at first, dazzled by all the chandeliers and champagne. The compliments quite dizzying, the marvelling and the hand kissing spread thick on top of certain inconvenient but immutable facts. The fact that they would never grant her a job worthy of her gift, that she would be lucky indeed to find herself teaching in a provincial girls’ high school. While she was basking Maksim decamped. Never a word about the real reason, of course—just the papers he had to write, his need for the peace and quiet of Beaulieu.


He had felt himself ignored. A man who was not used to being ignored, who had probably never been in any salon, at any reception, since he was a grown man, where that had been the case. And it wasn’t so much the case in Paris either. It wasn’t that he was invisible there, in Sonya’s limelight, as that he was the usual. A man of solid worth and negotiable reputation, with a certain bulk of frame and intellect, together with a lightness of wit, an adroit masculine charm. While she was an utter novelty,
a delightful freak, the woman of mathematical gifts and female timidity, quite charming, yet with a mind most unconventionally furnished, under her curls.

He wrote his cold and sulky apologies from Beaulieu, refusing her offer to visit once her flurry was over. He had a lady staying with him, he said, whom he could not possibly present to her. This lady was in distress and needed his attention at the moment. Sonya should make her way back to Sweden, he said; she should be happy where her friends were waiting for her. Her students would have need of her and so would her little daughter. (A jab there, a suggestion familiar to her, of faulty motherhood?)

And at the end of his letter one terrible sentence.

“If I loved you I would have written differently.”


The end of everything. Back from Paris with her prize and her freaky glittery fame, back to her friends who suddenly meant no more than a snap of her fingers to her. Back to the students who meant something more, but only when she stood before them transformed into her mathematical self, which was oddly still accessible. And back to her supposedly neglected but devastatingly merry little Fufu.

Everything in Stockholm reminded her.

She sat in the same room, with the furniture brought at such foolish expense across the Baltic Sea. The same divan in front of her that had recently, gallantly, supported his bulk. And hers in addition when he skillfully gathered her into his arms. In spite of his size he was never clumsy in lovemaking.

This same red damask, on which distinguished and undistinguished guests had sat in her old lost home. Maybe Fyodor Dostoyevsky had sat there in his lamentable nervous state, dazzled by Sophia’s sister Aniuta. And certainly Sophia herself as her mother’s unsatisfactory child, displeasing as usual.

The same old cabinet brought also from her home at Pali - bino, with the portraits of her grandparents set into it, painted on porcelain. The Shubert grandparents. No comfort there. He in uniform, she in a ball gown, displaying absurd self-satisfaction.
They had got what they wanted, Sophia supposed, and had only contempt for those not so conniving or so lucky.

“Did you know I’m part German?” she had said to Maksim.

“Of course. How else could you be such a prodigy of industry? And have your head filled with mythical numbers?”

If I loved you.

Fufu brought her jam on a plate, asked her to play a child’s card game.
“Leave me alone. Can’t you leave me alone?”

Later she wiped the tears out of her eyes and begged the child’s pardon.

Table of Contents

Dimensions

Fiction

Wenlock Edge

Deep-Holes

Free Radicals

Face

Some Women

Child’s Play

Wood

Too Much Happiness

Acknowledgments

Reading Group Guide

The questions and discussion topics that follow are intended to enhance your group’s conversation about Alice Munro’s Too Much Happiness, which won the Man Booker International Prize in 2009.

1. Dimensions
As in her earlier story “Runaway,” Munro examines the effects of the psychological domination of one person by another. Why does Doree visit her husband in jail? Lloyd’s letters are a central part of the story: why does his notion that he has seen the children in another “dimension” (page 29) bring a kind of comfort to Doree? Does her thought that Lloyd, “of all people, might be the person she should be with now” (page 30) seem sensible, or dangerous? When she is on her way to the prison once again, Doree miraculously resuscitates a young man: how does this act connect to the title, and what does the final scene suggest about her future?

2. Fiction
From whose point of view is this story told, and how does this shape our understanding of events? Edie has “a mind that plods inexorably from one cliché or foolishness to the next . . .” (pages 40–41). How might it be possible for Jon to prefer Edie to Joyce? In part two, how does Joyce feel when she reads about herself in Christie’s story? What is revealed by the child’s perspective? What does Joyce learn about herself that she hadn’t known, or had forgotten? Is it fitting that Christie doesn’t remember Joyce?

3. Wenlock Edge
Hearing Nina’s life story, the narrator says, “Her life made me feel like a simpleton” (page 72). Does this explain the narrator’s willingness to comply with Mr. Purvis’s requests? Why do you think Munro has chosen “On Wenlock Edge” (from A. E. Housman’s A Shropshire Lad) for the narrator to read to Mr. Purvis? How are the narrator’s feelings about literature, poetry, and the university library changed by her encounters with Nina and Mr. Purvis? Why does she send Ernie’s address to Mr. Purvis, and what does she gain by doing so? What details or events are most troubling in this story, and why?

4. Deep-Holes
As the family picnic begins, Sally finds herself in a dangerous place, “nearly crying with exhaustion and alarm and some familiar sort of seeping rage” (page 96). How would you describe Sally’s husband, and her marriage? Why does Kent leave home and refuse contact with his family? Why does he choose to live as he does (pages 109–17)? What effect does her meeting with Kent have upon Sally (pages 116–17)? What does the story’s title signify?

5. Free Radicals
Like “Dimensions,” this story presents an intimate view of someone who is capable of murdering his family. But it’s also a story about ordinary mortality: Nita’s husband has died of a heart attack, and she is suffering from liver cancer and may not have long to live. How does Nita cope with the idea of her own impending death? What story does the young man tell Nita when he shows her the photograph (pages 129–32), and what story does Nita tell him in return (pages 134–36)? What is the effect of this reciprocal response on Nita’s part? Compare this story’s ending with that of “Dimensions.”

6. Face
What is the web of familial and extrafamilial relations that determines the plot of this story? Discuss how the narrator and his friend Nancy create their own freedom and happiness within close range of a deeply unhappy ménage à trois. Who is the cause of the rupture that occurs on pages 155–57? Are Nancy’s attempts to mirror the flawed face of the narrator—first by painting, later by cutting—the clearest expressions of love he experiences in his lifetime? The narrator decides to settle in his childhood home because “in your life there are a few places, or maybe only the one place, where something happened, and then there are all the other places” (page 164). Why is this insight so profound? He goes on to suggest that the past is irreversible; do you agree or disagree?

7. Some Women
Who are the women referred to in the title? The story is narrated from a young girl’s point of view. What does she understand—--and what does she not understand—--about what is going on in Mrs. Crozier’s house (page 188)? Who is the main actor in the story, the one who is trying hardest to manipulate others? What is the motive for this manipulation?

8. Child’s Play
The story opens with references to an event that is not yet explained. Why does Munro frame the story in this way? Explaining why she feels “persecuted” by Verna, Marlene says, “Only adults would be so stupid as to believe she had no power. A power, moreover, that was specifically directed at me” (page 204, 201). How does this idea of power ricochet through the story? Why does Marlene become an anthropologist, and why does she shun intimacy (pages 211, 2–12)? What does Charlene do to Marlene in asking her to go in search of Father Hofstrader? Compare this story with “Face,” with which it shares the idea that the action of a moment can be the determining event in a person’s life.

9. Wood
Why is Roy obsessed with cutting wood, an interest which is “private but not secret” (page 226)?  How has Lea’s illness affected their marriage? What is being repressed or unexpressed by Roy in this story? What is the transformation that takes place in Lea? What is the loss referred to at the bottom of page 245, and what does Roy mean when he retrieves from his mind the phrase, “the Deserted Forest” (page 246)?

10. Too Much Happiness
Outwardly this story diverges from the rest, but what concerns or questions connect it with others? What is the relationship between Sophia’s love for Maksim, her ideas about womanhood, and her joy in mathematical thought? Are they in conflict? How does Munro present female intellectual ambition and its frustrations, even its tragedy? What do you think is meant by Sophia’s last words, “too much happiness” (page 302)?

11. General questions

  1. In several of these stories, Munro sets out the dynamics of love and hate, desire and frustration in marriages, but does not interpret for the reader the actions that result. There is no facile sign-posting of causes and effects. In what stories do you find Munro’s presentation of the unstated mood or tensions of a marriage most effective?    

  2. Discuss the following observation on Too Much Happiness by Leah Hager Cohen: “The collection’s ten stories take on some sensational subjects. In fact, a quick tally yields all the elements of pulp fiction: violence, adultery, extreme cruelty, duplicity, theft, suicide, murder. But while in pulp fiction the emotional climax coincides with the height of external drama, a Munro story works according to a different scheme. Here the nominally momentous event is little more than an anteroom to an echo chamber filled with subtle and far-reaching thematic reverberations” (The New York Times Book Review, 27 November  27, 2009).
  3. In “Fiction,” Joyce hasn’t yet read Christie’s book, but thinks: “How  Aare wWe to lLive is a collection of short stories, not a novel. This in itself is a disappointment. It seems to diminish the book’s authority, making the author seem like somebody who is just hanging on to the gates of Literature, rather than safely settled inside” (page 52). Is this an ironic comment on Munro’s own work, reflecting the general opinion of short stories as opposed to the novel? How do these stories prove that opinion misguided?
(For a complete list of available reading group guides, and to sign up for the Reading Group Center enewsletter, visit www.readinggroupcenter.com)

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Too Much Happiness 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 86 reviews.
MJinPA More than 1 year ago
I think Alice Munro is one of the most talented living author of short stories. For anyone who has never read a Munro story, don't be fooled by the kindly, harmless-looking old lady photo in the back cover flap. Munro provides just enough interesting surface details to lure a reader into her characters' lives - until she's got you irretrievably involved in the dark underbelly of those details. Believably bizarre and macabre events in a person's life story, drawn in the most delicate prose. All that said, I did not love all the stories in this collection. For instance, the "title track" feels too experimental, not as clean and well-crafted as the others. "Wenlock Edge" could also be shored up a bit. Although it is intricate and involved and plays around interestingly with literotica, one suddenly feels as though Munro got bored or lazy and ended the story as quickly as she could; and although her ending is the usual elegant, understated affair, the part just beforehand feels as though it got lobbed off. Aside from those two, however, the collection lives up to Munro's usual high standard. In my opinion, the best two stories are "Fiction" and "Free Radicals" (especially the former) - and "Dimensions" is a fabulous opener. The most disturbing, "Child's Play," succeeds on a double level in that Munro produces the same effect on the reader that the child storyteller is trying to achieve on her friend. Wonderful. If you like short stories in the (non-Southern) tradition of Flannery O'Connor, I am sure you will like most of this collection.
caribird More than 1 year ago
The rest of my bookclub praised this book. I found the stories quite strange and had some difficulty connecting to them. Her writing is wonderful, the stories not my favorite.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I absolutely hated this book. Each story was more and more depressing and sorrowful. Not in a thought provoking way , either. I would have stopped reading after the first one but I kept hoping that the stories would get better. They didn't. This book was terrible and I would NOT recommend it to anyone. 
DownCameTheRain More than 1 year ago
Alice Munro is my all time favorite author. In my opinion there is nothing else you could possibly want from a writer. That said, if you like plot-driven stories, this is probably not the book for you. These stories are very character-driven. If you've read other of Munro's books, I think you'll find that this one has a little bit of a darker edge.
Boustrophedon More than 1 year ago
The stories in Alice Munro's latest work, Too Much Happiness, are almost too vivid. Her characters, original and offbeat, find themselves doing and saying incredible things, but the stories are so well written, the prose is so flawless, the detail so exactly right, that the reader never questions the likelihood of such events. The masterful plots, leading often to horror by the most pedestrian of events, stick with you, haunting you and unsettling you. In one story, "Wendlock Edge" (the title is taken from a Housman poem), for example, the young woman narrator is asked to dinner at the home of a old rich man, a man we know for his ability to control the narrator's roommate, Nina, a girl who once "got herself pregnant," blames herself for he unhappy encounters with men, in other words. The manipulator's assistant instructs the narrator to strip before entering the dining room and she sits naked through dinner. Then the old pervert and the young woman adjuourn to the library where he asks her to read from A Shropshire Lad, instructing her, almost casually, not to cross her legs. It is not a seduction scene but a sexual assault, and as we read we realize the young woman will be haunted for a long time for her complicity in her own violation. When Nina runs away from her "sugar daddy/abuser," the narrator, perhaps to hit back at Nina, who had suggested she take her place at the dinner, informs the old manipulator where Nina is, and they disappear together. In another story, a successful woman looks back on her past in such a way that we are confused. She has never married, never maintained relationships; she seems to suffer from some form of world-weariness or ennui; then she learns that a woman she hasn't seen in years has died and requested of her a favor. When the woman tries to carry out the friend's dying request, we come to understand the secret she and the friend had kept since childhood, the secret that had destroyed their lives--their murder of a special education student while they were at camp; her past has haunted her, we come to realize, as surely as the past of young woman of Wenlock Edge will haunt her in the future. Munro has so much insight, so great an understanding of the human heart, that the stories, as artful as they are, come to feel almost like the stories close friends tell each other when they have nothing to hide and all the time in the world. These masterpieces of fiction in the hands of almost any other writer would have become novels, and we would have lost the intensity that Munro generates by restricting the size of her canvas.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
If you're looking for happiness, it is not in this book.  The depressing opening story is a staple on the evening news and frankly a waste of the non-refundable moments of my life.  Ms. Munro is a fabulous writer, but I most likely will not read her again unless I find something a little less tragic. 
loosha on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Alice Munro won the 2009 Man Booker International Prize, awarded once every two years 'to a living author for a body of work that has contributed to an achievement in fiction on the world stage'. Alice Munro is the Queen of the short story. Elegant, understated, realization slowly builds as each tale reveals its truth. The characters and their motives are startling and I needed to let each one brew in my mind for a while before going on to the next. The dark corners of the mind hold unexpected methods of coping. This one goes on my re-read list.
Cait86 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In "Fiction", the second story in Munro's latest collection of short stories, Too Much Happiness, the narrator finds herself figuring in a book written by someone from her past. About this book she says: "A collection of short stories, not a novel. This in itself is a disappointment. It seems to diminish the book's authority, making the author seem like somebody who is just hanging on to the gates of Literature, rather than safely settled inside" (49-50). Here, is Alice Munro, recent winner of the Man Booker International Prize, deriding her own craft? Or is this self-deprecating sentence meant merely in jest? Either way, Munro proves her own statement false. Too Much Happiness is just one more example of her skill as an author - and proof that she is not only within the gates of Literature, but actually holds a place of honour.Munro's stories are not about grand adventures or shocking experiences. They are about normal people - a widow, a farmer, a naive university student. Sure, there is some excitement: a house is broken into by a crazed man, a wife loses her young children in a grisly way. But this is not the focus of Munro's writing. Instead, her stories portray the way in which human beings deal with life - with the general obstacles that the world throws at us. Her grasp on the human mind is incredible; her characters all think in a totally believable way, and yet they all think differently. Place one character in the story of another, and you would have a completely different outcome. Munro's ability to differentiate between an entire cast of characters is outstanding.I cannot praise this book enough. Each story is a mini masterpiece to be savoured all on its own; together, the stories share enough threads that they become a coherent narrative. If you think you don't like short stories, try Munro - she is in a class all her own.
Davidgnp on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Alice Munro is my favourite living short story writer, and this collection does not disappoint except, strangely for the long title story. Unlike the other contemporary pieces, this one is set in the nineteenth century and centres on the real-life Sophia Kovalevsky, a Russian mathematician and novelist. The story simply did not come to life for me, and it seems out of place among the rest of the collection, though Munro clearly wants to draw attention to it through the title. Other readers may be entirely captivated by the romantic complications Sophia faces; I am perfectly ready to accept that the fault is my own, but all criticism is subjective. The other stories are set in familiar Munro territory - in and around Ontario, focusing on small lives - but nothing is ever quite familiar with this writer, who has the unerring ability to unsettle us, often by examining the brittleness of relationships, sometimes by the placing of quirky incidents in seemingly ordinary circumstancess, as here in the story 'Wenlock Edge' where a student takes her friend's usual place as a solitary guest in a wealthy man's home and is invited, quite coolly and charmingly, to dine with him completely naked. Equally oddly, she complies, without knowing why, and nothing happens - the man continues conversational and correct throughout the meal. The perverse strangeness of it reminded me of Pip's visits to Miss Havisham in 'Great Expectations'.I believe Miss Munro has said this will be her last book. She is 75, but I do hope there's more to come from her yet. As readers of her work, we can't have too much happiness.
debnance on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Munro¿s new book of short stories is filled with human beings. Just when you think you¿ve found a character above reproach, though, Munro says to look again, and you find the ice has melted in your hands. You get the sense that Munro is very, very good at seeing into the hearts of people and finding we all come up short. The title is a cruel twist on the stories inside; an objective observer of these lives doesn¿t find much happiness at all here. But is that really the case? It¿s something---a little glimmer of happiness, maybe, perhaps some small happiness that comes from making it through troubles---that keeps these people moving along through their difficult lives.
YogiABB on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
"Too Much Happiness" is Alice Munro's latest book. It is a collection of short stories and it is marvelous.This is the type of book that makes reading almost effortless. She is so smooth and compelling in her writing that I'm drawn in just a few pages and it doesn't even seem like I'm reading.The book is chilling, lots of secrets presented in ironic ways. The secrets stay secrets but the characters are forever changed by them.If you like short stories read this book.
bearette24 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I've enjoyed Alice Munro's work in the past, but I couldn't finish this one. The stories were dull and depressing.
tandah on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Someone else has written that Alice Munro's short stories are as complete as a novel - which was particularly the case in the collection's namesake. This is my first experience reading Alice Munro and I found her stories sinister, surprising, real, shocking, human - some I had to put down and regroup before I finished, others I had to read twice because I raced through the initial reading. I've discovered a wonderful writer, and I will seek more of her work.
novelcommentary on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I don¿t read too many books of short stories, but this was a Christmas gift. So after finishing my last novel, I decided to pick this up instead of heading out to Barnes and Noble. The first story was intriguing; a young mother goes to visit her husband in an institution despite the terrible violence of his past. From there I continued with tales, mostly about women in Canada. My favorites were Fiction, about a woman who finds herself in a short story written by the daughter of her ex husband¿s lover; and Child¿s Play about a murder that happened during a child¿s camping trip. I also enjoyed the intelligence of the women in Free Radicals. These are not typical short stories, at least not what I think of as the slice of life, the glimpse of a scene that is usually honed down to the barest of information. These are more like 30 page novels, often depicting the entire life of the character involved, and they are not without plot. Rather they are about murder, lost children, robbery, self mutilation, --more plot than many novels. The last story is different, a longer novella about Sophia Kovalevsky, the rather famous Russian Mathematician who become the first women professor in Sweden, a country that would at least recognize her genius. This story depicted her as she left her lover to go back to Sweden and during this train ride reflects back on her past life. All the stories were well written and thoughtful. The jacket cover nicely summarizes that Munro, ¿render complex, difficult events and emotions into stories that shed light on the unpredictable ways in which men and women accommodate and often transcend what happens in their lives.¿ That says it pretty well.
brianinbuffalo on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
With apologies to Ms. Munro, an extremely capable writer, my subtitle for "Too Much Happiness" is "Too Much Tedium." I stopped reading half the entries midway through their boring narratives. One reviewer described this book as "dull and depressing." I don't mind depressing. I just don't have much patience for dull. Still, I must say "Faces" was an intriguing tale.
danibrecher on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Don¿t be misled by the title of Alice Munro¿s new collection of short stories, Too Much Happiness: These stories are anything but cheerful. In fact, they¿re downright depressing, full of marital infidelities, drawn-out deaths, and traumatic childhoods. And yet, the stories are intensely lovely.Munro, who recently won the Booker Prize for this volume, has perfected the lyrical gut-wrencher. As in her previous collections of short stories, Munro places her characters in beautiful, rural Canadian settings before tearing their lives apart with shocking spasms of violence, both physical and emotional. It¿s a formula that consistently forces the reader into a profound sympathy with her characters, but for all its emotional clout, the narrative blueprint becomes monotonous after 300-plus pages.Nine out of the 10 stories in Too Much Happiness are set in Canada¿s recent past, with most taking place in Munro¿s native Ontario. The descriptions of the Canadian landscape highlight Munro¿s talent for spotting the crucial details that bring a story to life. The weeds in an abandoned garden, the composition of a rock formation, and the carved name of a long-shuttered bank are all closely observed, creating a strong sense of place and beauty.Inside this sepia-colored world, women from the whole spectrum of Canadian society give up their senses of self for the men in their lives. In the first story of the collection, a young woman struggles to forgive her husband for a violent act of madness. Another story focuses on a girl who goes to extremes to look like the severely birth-marked boy next door. Munro¿s women all discover, in one way or another, that ¿the great happiness¿of one person can come out of the great unhappiness of another.¿ The tragedy is that the women in these stories all fall in the latter half of that equation.Munro comes closest to doing something innovative in the book¿s last story, which lends its name to the title of the whole collection. Taking place in the metropolises of 19th-century Europe, this story imagines the final days of Sophia Kovalevsky, the Russian mathematician and novelist. As she travels on a train across Europe, Kovalevsky reflects on her past and on her lovers. A mysterious doctor jolts her from her reverie, changing the course of her not-very-long life. On her deathbed, Kovalevsky¿s last words are, ¿Too much happiness.¿ This leaves the reader with the question of whether this last woman is the only one to achieve happiness, or if she is deluded by her illness and is, at last, as miserable as the others.By the end of the collection, the reader is left to wonder what Munro might accomplish if she were to try her hand at writing stories about women who suffer less. Would her lyricism be lost?Originally published in the Chicago Maroon.
ImpudentAngel on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed some of the stories, but not all of them. I think I prefer novels to short stories. Too much lacking in the short stories - I want to know what happened next. But that's not to say that they weren't all well written. Just for me, the genre isn't as satisfying.
Menagerie on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I am normally a fan of Munro's work but this collection just didn't work for me. It felt too deliberate, as if the mechanics of the stories were more important than the stories themselves. I found the prose heavy and awkward in many places and the characters were similarly turbid.
silva_44 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Having heard Munro's name bandied about, I was anxious to read some of her work, and was not disappointed. I was intrigued by her style as much or more than I was with her stories themselves. Her portrayal of time is fascinating; I don't think that one of the stories in this collection was told in a linear fashion. Her main characters are also interesting, because in many of the stories, they end up being more subordinate than anything else. There is always something hidden, a gem to be discovered. I enjoyed this collection, and look forward to reading more.
msf59 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is my introduction to Munro¿s work and what a wonderful place to start. Yes, these ten stories are draped in loss and melancholy, but in Munro¿s capable hands, they are also about hope and survival. These are well-developed characters and her prose is crisp and assured. Here is a description of a crabby old lady: ¿Certain suggestions, or notions, would make the muscles of her lean spotty face quiver, her eyes go sharp and black, and her mouth work as if there was a despicable taste in it. She could stop you in your tracks then, like a savage thorn bush.¿Her writing is also inventive, daring and startling at times and wherever she takes me, I will follow. I feel this is just the beginning of a long enduring affair.
vivwong on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Alice Munro is my new favorite female writer.
joannemepham29 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I certainly without a doubt can appreciate the craft, that which is Alice Munro's writing, but felt uninterested in most of these stories. I enjoyed a few, but for me reading is entertainment, and I was bored. With that being said, I feel the power of Alice Munro's words, but that alone did not make this a great read for me. I hate that too, since everyone else loved it.
janiereader on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Too much happiness : stories is a collection of nine new stories by Alice Munro. Good stories, with fair narration, (except for Kimberly Farr who is terrific as ever!) but a disappointment after the richness of her other works. I would recommend this collection only to those who are true Munro fans.
tap_aparecium on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I¿m impressed with this woman¿s ability to make the impossible and misunderstood decisions of her characters seem almost relatable. Details changed or not we all tend to make similar decisions in our lives that seem like madness to those on the outside. Alice Munro has a propensity for diving into the seedy underbelly of the human condition with her writing; exploring our addictions to love, to abuse, to our own insecurities and to other various parts of life that seem unimportant to those around us. This was my first foray into reading collections of short stories and with only one story in the collection that I genuinely disliked I was not disappointed. I plan on checking out more of her work in the future.
EllenH on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Munro writes very well about difficult people, lives and emotions. Such depth in characters and story, but so dark or disturbing. I can't decide what I think. I kept reading because the stories were very interesting and well done, but now I'm ready for something abit lighter!