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In these ten stories Alice Munro once again renders 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 livesTen superb new stories by one of our most beloved and admired writers—the winner of the 2009 Man Booker International Prize In the first story a young wife and mother receives release from the unbearable pain of losing her three children 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 stories uncover the “deep holes” in a marriage the unsuspected cruelty of children and how a boy’s disfigured face provides both the good things in his life and the bad And in the long title story we accompany Sophia Kovalevsky—a late nineteenth century Russian émigré and mathematician—on a winter journey that takes her from the Riviera where she visits her lover to Paris Germany and Denmark where she has a fateful meeting with a local doctor and finally to Sweden where she teaches at the only university in Europe willing to employ a female mathematician With clarity and ease Alice Munro once again renders 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


10 thoughts on “Too Much Happiness

  1. says:

    Something happened here In your life there are a few places or maybe only the one place where something happened and then there are all the other placesI pulled this uote from one of the stories in this very fine collection from the master of short stories Alice Munro Yet I believe it sums up exceedingly well one of the themes running through every single story There exist these significant moments in one’s life no matter how remarkable they may or may not appear at the time that shape a person from that point forward Do we know when this happens? When this moment occurs do we proclaim ‘This is it THE moment that will change me forever’? Probably not Alice Munro however is a master at drawing us to these moments in the lives of her characters some of them momentous than others What impresses me most is how she manages to do this in so few words Don’t let the title of this collection fool you Unless of course you can infer immediately what Munro means when she says “too much” This is a bit of a darker assortment than I had expected to encounter Perhaps this and the edgy southern collection I also read this month are somehow linked to the uncharacteristically cynical aura I radiated around the house this holiday season Still I appreciated the meatiness of both sets of stories Sometimes horrific events occurred; at other times we witnessed subtle happenings that had impact much later in lives And there were times when the uglier shameful natures of our personalities were revealed The life of those times took much of its liveliness its wit and folklore as my mother may have known from pure viciousnessMost of the stories were excellent; a couple of them were less engaging The first Dimensions was the most poignant in my opinion Wenlock Edge left me suirming After reading Free Radicals I had a new respect for a resourceful elderly widow Child’s Play was perhaps the most disturbing The misunderstandings of children as well as the cruelty they can easily inflict on one another felt all too real in this day and age The last story Too Much Happiness is the one I was most drawn to as it told the story of a real life historical figure Sophia Kovalevsky a Russian mathematician Oddly enough this piece actually felt a little out of place in the collection I never really thought of Alice Munro as a writer of historical fiction but that is exactly what this was I thought it worked well but it left me wanting a bit – a full length story of Kovalevsky’s life would be even satisfying A brilliant woman struggling in a place Russia and later Sweden and time late nineteenth century to achieve the recognition and respect she very well deserved She was an utter novelty a delightful freak Men whose brains were blowing old notions apart were still in thrall to women whose heads were full of nothing but the necessity of tight corsets calling cards and conversations that filled your throat with a kind of perfumed fog I’ll be on the lookout for other works about this fascinating womanI’m a great fan of Munro My first acuaintance with her was a collection titled The Moons of Jupiter My favorite so far however is her one novel titled Lives of Girls and Women I can’t recommend it highly enough – it is truly superb I own a few of her compilations and know that I can count on some captivating writing no matter what I choose next It almost seemed as if there must be some random and of course unfair thrift in the emotional housekeeping of the world if the great happiness – however temporary however flimsy – of one person could come out of the great unhappiness of another


  2. says:

    “We live in time it holds us and molds us but I never felt I understood it very well And I'm not referring to theories about how it bends and doubles back or may exist elsewhere in parallel versions No I mean ordinary everyday time which clocks and watches assure us passes regularly tick tock click clock Is there anything plausible than a second hand? And yet it takes only the smallest pleasure or pain to teach us time's malleability Some emotions speed it up others slow it down; occasionally it seems to go missing until the eventual point when it really does go missing never to return” ― Julian Barnes The Sense of an EndingAs I proceeded on my voyage through this intense collection of short stories by Alice Munro this uote by Julian Barnes kept coming to my mind For this collection is essentially about people encountering unprecedented events in their lives Events where time and the choices judgement made by the characters play an important roleTime abounding moments which possess the power to alter a state of life Forever Time constantly reminding that we live in a mortal world which is not consistent in its living It is a world which is ephemeral A world which enfold every thing every joy pain sorrow misfortune lust desire ecstasy every possible feeling experienced by a human being and is still constantly altering in the sense in which it makes it supremacy felt Alice portrayed this supremacy in the story “Dimensions” profoundly It is a story where Doree the female character in a rage of anger gets out of the house only to return and find the dead bodies of her three kids Kids strangled to death by her husband It wasn’t the first time that they had a fight but it was the first that she went out of the house in anger If only she hadn’t at that time her kids would still be with her Did she get over it? Not exactly Did she forgive her husband? May be she did Here is the letter which her husband wrote to her from the institution where he was kept “People are looking all over for the solution Their minds are sore from looking So many things jostling around and hurting them You can see in their faces all their bruises and pains They are troubled They rush around They have to shop and go to the Laundromat and get their hair cut and earn a living or pick up their welfare checks The poor ones have to do that and the rich ones have to look hard for the best ways to spend their money That is work too They have to build the best houses with gold faucets for their hot and cold water And their Audis and magical toothbrushes and all possible contraptions and then burglar alarms to protect against slaughter and all neigh neither rich nor poor have any peace in their souls I was going to write neighbour instead of neither why was that? I have not got any neighbour here Where I am at least people have got beyond a lot of confusion They know what their possessions are and always will be and they don’t even have to buy or cook their own food Or choose it Choices are eliminated All we that are here can get is what we can get out of our own minds At the beginning all in my head was perturbation Sp? There was everlasting storm and I would knock my head against cement in the hope of getting rid of it Stopping my agony and my life So punishments were meted I got hosed down and tied up and drugs introduced in my bloodstream I am not complaining either because I had to learn there is no profit in that Nor is it any different from the so called real world in which people drink and carry on and commit crimes to eliminate their thoughts which are painful And often they get hauled off and incarcerated but it is not long enough for them to come out on the other side And what is that? It is either total insanity or peace”In other stories like 'Fiction' 'Wenlock Edge' 'Deep Holes' and 'Too much Happiness' also she makes you sit and contemplate the choicesdecisions taken by characters at different points in their lives Decisions which if were different from those taken would have altered their living tremendously In Wenlock edge a young girl is disgraced by a Mr Purvis who demands her presence sans any clothing for a dinner at his house The girl acuiesces and even goes to the extent of reading aloud before the man It is noteworthy that the man does not even touch her But some time later when she is still restless her mind is occupied by these thoughts “I would never think of those lines again without feeling the prickles of the upholstery on my bare haunches The sticky prickly shame A far greater shame it seemed now than at the time He had done something to me after all” Here the reader is actually left to brood over the morality of human beings Capriciousness in some weak moments may result in hasty and insensitive decisions thereby changing the disposition in a manner which may not be retractable My favourite story of the collection is “Too much Happiness” which entails the story of an erudite Mathematics scholar Sophia who rises to fame from a humble background Her journey involving those decisions which help her find her place in the Society But does she feel happy subseuently? Is she happy after achieving recognition? Is she happy for her decision to remarry after the death of her ex Husband? At one stage she wonders whether her decision to enter into a sort of contract marriage with her ex Husband was right Alice tries to give a sight into it through these lines “Many persons who have not studied mathematics confuse it with arithmetic and consider it a dry and arid science Actually however this science reuires great fantasy She was learning uite late what many people around her appeared to have known since childhood that life can be perfectly satisfying without major achievements It could be brimful of occupations which did not weary you to the bone Acuiring what you needed for a comfortably furnished life and then to take on a social and public life of entertainment would keep you from even being bored or idle and would make you feel at the end of the day that you had done exactly what pleased everybody There need be no agonizing”The story ends with the demise of Sophia brought about by pneumonia Could it be avoided if she hadn't taken a journey to meet her teacher? And does she die being “Too Happy”? I would let you ponder upon that since I would not want go ahead further and spoil your reading of the work This collection of short but powerful stories by Alice Munro does lead to emphasize the helplessness of humans when lost into the maze of conseuences brought about by their own decisions And does convey us the necessity to be judicious when still making oursThanks to a dear friend for introducing me to Munro Thank you spenkevich


  3. says:

    Leave it to Alice Munro to humble me as a reader To leave me feeling tricked To make me feel dumb To show me that even when I think I'm paying attention I'm really not paying attention What was I thinking of at that moment? What was occupying my attention? Clearly not the story I was reading the story being 'Wenlock Edge' with that last section so crucial to giving context to the section before it It wasn't a magic trick just a rearrangement of the timeline And I missed it And now that I've sorted that out Alice how I've missed you It's been a few years The beauty of Alice Munro is that each story can be reread endlessly without the reader ever being 100% certain that they've noted every nuance or caught every trick Dimensions 5Fiction 5Wenlock Edge 4Deep Holes 3Free Radicals 4Face 4Some Women 4Child's Play 5Wood 5Too Much Happiness 5 Charlene did tell about her brother but with true repugnance This was the brother now in the Navy She went into his room looking for her cat and there he was doing it to his girlfriend They never knew she saw them She said they slapped as he went up and down You mean they slapped on the bed I said No she said It was his thing slapped when it was going in and out It was gross Sickening And his bare white bum had pimples on it Sickening


  4. says:

    Something about these stories makes my skin creep There is a feeling of total emptiness as if I am watching people's lives unfold in front the plexiglass of a zoo enclosure Munro is a talented writer but there is nothing showy in her style I felt no connection with the characters the time and place are not developed in great detail All you are left with the uncomfortable situations she picks as her material unfinished lives death misunderstanding lies I'll come back to Munro the next time I want the literary euivalent of dissecting a frog but in the mean time I'll stick to authors who can write beautifully craft a plot and make a full blooded human beings leap from the page


  5. says:

    is there another living writer of fiction who while reading produces as many of these 'yes exactly a tiny but revelatory detail i've never considered in such a light and never so precisely expressed' no there isn't alice munro is chimney smoke smell and end of day melancholy the goal is to read everything she's written


  6. says:

    The title of her latest collection could sum up the feeling Alice Munro's fans get when they encounter her work Yet is it possible to get too much of a good thing?Hardly when you're in the hands of such an inventive writer one whose carefully crafted richly suggestive stories burrow their way into the subconscious like actual memoriesEven in her late 70s this year's Man Booker International Prize winner gets to show off some new tricks Two of the stories are among the handful she's written from a male point of view including the long uncollected story Wood set in the world of tree cutting and forestryThe insights Munro offers here and in the story Face narrated by a man born with a disfiguring birthmark should uash any notion that she's exclusively a chronicler of the lives of girls and womenLong time readers will note subtle allusions to earlier stories a play on one of her titles here a similar character there making this feel like a look back at four decades of creating fictionIn fact one of the most enigmatic stories is called Fiction which is told in a playful sophisticated fashion Munro presents a series of scenes catapults us to a time years later and then adds a clever twist about a young writer of short stories that has us reading the whole tale againAbout those endings they're chiselled and satisfying but often open ended allowing the narratives' mysteries to deepen and take rootI've read Some Women about a group of women tending to a dying man several times and with each encounter I see something new some surprise flaring up in a character or bit of dialogueViolence and sexuality lurk beneath many of the stories family murders a uestionable death by drowning a creepy fetishist But these aren't the point of the storiesAs Nita the compelling character in the story Free Radicals tells us She hated to hear the word ‘escape' used about fiction it was real life that was the escapeSo true This is fiction to live byOriginally published in NOW Magazine


  7. says:

    The starkest realization I had while reading Munro’s 2009 collection of ten stories in Too Much Happiness was the absence of happiness The stories are a sordid depiction of flawed humanity at its worst and most shameful I took breaks in between stories and had little desire to return to them a very uncharacteristic response to Munro’s writing I have to admit nonetheless that Munro is a master at fathoming the depth of human duplicity evil vindictiveness as well as the human capacity for making the most out of blemished or damaged lives Her emotional acuity is outstanding so much so it rattles the readerMunro’s female protagonists are often naïve young women who are coerced into marriage or subservient relationships on account of poverty or unwanted pregnancies which usually culminate in physical or emotional abuse This is evident in ‘Dimensions’ where a 17 year old married a controlling older man view spoilerwho in a fit of rage killed all their three children hide spoiler


  8. says:

    Mighty difficult time choosing between for Too Much Happiness Alice Munro is than capable of writing a good sturdy yarn although the may indicate that she is mediocre at best at concocting brilliant short stories All ten of these shorts are written in an accessible way but the themes are harsh bleak 2 of them involve infanticide one about a father killing his children another about kids murdering kids others are about straight up death The titular story is the only one which seems out of place All others are contemporary vignettes of Canadian life The title is ironic just as you'd expect kudos for placing that particular story in 19th century frozen Russia an unconventional love story involving yup mathematics


  9. says:

    Every one of us will be forgotten Sophia thought but did not say because of the tender sensibilities of men particularly of a young man on this pointThis uote is not only my favourite uote of the book it summarizes some of Munro's writing ualities uite nicely She is sometimes very witty and almost always cynical perhaps slightly bitter and an acute observer Four very fine ualities in a writer yet for me there is something missing in most of the stories Something of a forgiving tone perhaps Something to counterbalance all the follies and pure menace of humanity described Time after time Munro is brutally honest about human nature people deceive each other leave each other murder loved ones and yet perhaps the worst flaws to read about are the smaller ones the general lack of empathy and understanding as the woman's indifference to her student in Fiction or Marlene's detest for Verna in Child's Play or the simple misunderstanding never repaired in Face Though the flaws might be as acutely observed as in the aforementioned uote for some reason it hits a little too close to home for me especially while leaving me without any suggestion for redemption from Munro I wish I was a refined person needing less assurance from the author but I prefer some type of humor or distracting beauty to sweeten the very bitter medicine I guess I'm simply not superhuman enough to appreciate all the cynicism of Munro at the moment What I do appreciate about the book is that it is clearly written by someone who have lived a full life and has the luxury of looking back with some perspective Someone who knows that life goes on no matter what regardless of how broken a heart is or how terrible life becomes life will prevail unless death enters Yet there are no cliché descriptions of people once glowing now broken down and faded away with the exception of Sofia's sister in the last story Instead people are simply a bit jaded and perhaps cynical as they grow older but every bit as alive as before I also appreciate the last story I've previously read short mentions about Sofia Kovalevskaya the first female university professor in mathematics and in Munro's story I feel very close to her Her journey through Europe with the language and norm barriers and description of the Swedish stiffness felt spot on I read this book with my book circle and before reading it my expectations were sky high which often is a set up for disappointment Almost no one in the circle liked it some had simply stopped after the two first and perhaps darkest stories I was among the most positive and clearly I'm not a huge fan excepting perhaps one and a half stories Still I did feel the need to defend Munro from the accusation of drawing only on her own life in the stories One person felt that the descriptions were too real to be made up which I think might be one of the finest compliments one could give to an author Munro might be one of the stoutest observers of human flaws I've read I would love to read what she thinks of our strengths Ps I almost forgot what's the deal with the cover see the Vintage edition??? Why would anyone even consider this horrible chick lit cover after having read even the first two sentences in Munro's book? It makes me think of this article by Meg Wolitzer about 'The second shelf' how covers on 'women's books' differs from those written by men This also by extension makes me think of the latest Wikipedia debacle where one editor moved all female writers into a separate 'woman author' category while he left all men in the category simply called 'author' see hereEdit I've noticed that after Munro won the Nobel prize the covers have gotten a major make over imagine that


  10. says:

    Five of these stories I'd read before online at the New Yorker and it was a pleasure to read them again even to note a few subtle changes that had been made in particular with the one I think is my favorite Face This pleasure in reading Munro I think comes not from her characters or her plots though she obviously is very talented in those facets but from the themes of the stories some of which need to be teased out I especially felt this way with a story Wood that I didn't even think I liked at first thinking it only to be a somewhat long winded way of illustrating an aphorism Yet it kept me thinking all night and I reread it the next dayThe longer title story relates the amazing life of a late 19th century Russian female mathematician and novelist and sent me looking for information about her It's easy to see why Munro was drawn to her though it couldn't have been easy to get all she related about her in a short story as she did as the woman's life could easily take up the length of a novel