Jennifer (JC-S)'s Reviews > Too Much Happiness

Too Much Happiness by Alice Munro
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Nov 03, 11

bookshelves: reading-group
Read from October 23 to 28, 2011

‘This might even turn into a funny story that she would tell some day.’

When I picked up this collection of ten short stories by Alice Munro, I had no idea what I was letting myself in for. This, courtesy of a reading group, was my first encounter with Ms Munro’s fiction.

After I read the first story, ‘Dimensions’, I put the book down for almost a week. I was not sufficiently optimistic about Doree’s future to be comfortable with the possibility of a new beginning. The ending to Doree’s story took me by surprise, and I wanted more before moving on. At the rate of one story a day, I finished the book. Each of these stories made an impact and, a number of them made me uncomfortable – especially the relationships in ‘Wenlock Edge’ and the cruelty of children in ‘Child’s Play’. I found ‘Too Much Happiness’ quite different from the other stories, and it didn’t work as well for me. While I’m interested in learning more about Sophia Kovalevsky, a 19th century Russian mathematician, as a consequence - I couldn’t be sure where fact ended and fiction began. For some reason I found this distracting.

The two stories I liked best were ‘Face’ - with its male narrator and his disfiguring birthmark, and ‘Wood’, the story of Roy and Lea.

‘You think that would have changed things? The answer is of course, and for a while, and never.’

In most of the stories, knowledge comes to the reader in pieces as the story moves between present and past. In each of the stories we see events and relationships as the characters, mostly female, remember (and sometimes reinterpret) them. I did not like most of these characters, but what they did (or how they reacted) often made an uncomfortable form of sense as the stories unfolded. I found in many stories I wanted to know more, because I’d become involved enough in the story to not want it to finish when it did. I think it’s an issue of comfort rather than incompleteness. The stories include a number of momentous and sensational events: including adultery, murder, suicide and violence. But these events are not the centre of each story which generally revolves around relationships or consequences.

Yes, I will be reading more of Ms Munro’s fiction. But not just yet: the devastating effect of some relationships is reality, but it’s a form of reality I need in measured doses.

‘I grew up, and old.’

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
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