Alice Munro – Too Much Happiness

Posted on | August 14, 2011 | 5 Comments

Too Much Happiness is a collection of short stories by internationally-acclaimed writer, Alice Munro. Not being a big fan of short stories, I always start a collection tentatively, not really expecting to enjoy it, but hoping to be pleasantly surprised. Munro’s Runaway, for example, was fantastic.

Too Much Happiness is a bit of an ironic name for this collection. While reading the first few stories, it felt like the stories kicked off right about the time the “happiness” ended in the protagonist’s lives… when everything seemed to be hunky-dory, and then the world came crashing down. The stories, in their simplicity and their profundity, explored how the protagonists reacted, and gave a tremendous insight into the workings of a human mind.

Like I’ve said before, it’s this simplicity that makes Munro’s work absolutely breathtaking. There’s no cliffhangers. There’s no incredible twists. It’s about the brittleness of human relationships – nothing out of ordinary, nothing spectacular, but just… something that’s so universal that it touches the reader, and makes the reader root for the protagonists; empathise with them and sympathise with them. Reading Munro isn’t an escape from reality. It’s facing reality head-on.

She had always been such a reader – that was one reason, Rich had said, that she was the right woman for him; she could sit and let him alone[…]. She hadn’t been just a once-through reader, either. The Brothers Karamazov, The Mill on the Floss, The Wings of the Dove, The Magic Mountain, over and over. She would pick one up, planning to read that one special passage, and find herself unable to stop until the whole thing was redigested. She read modern fiction, too. Always fiction. She hated to hear the word “escape” used about fiction. She once might have argued, not just playfully, that it was real life that was the escape.

All that said though, I did find this collection a tad inferior to Runaway. A couple of the stories just didn’t resonate with me, and I was left thinking, this is a tad pointless; or, I really don’t get this… It seemed to unrealistic in the oh-so-realistic web of fiction that Munro spins. Fiction and Free Radicals are two of the stories. Even Dimensions, the first story, had me confused. It was tragic, but… I just couldn’t relate to the main character.

On the other hand, stories like Face and Child’s Play were mind-blowing though, and if nothing else, I can’t recommend those two stories enough. It’s stories like these that keep me going back to the world of short stories, and as soon as I had finished this anthology, I picked up yet another one of her books, simply because they are meant to be read, treasured and then re-read, just for the odd glimpses they give us into life, reality and everything else.


5 Responses to “Alice Munro – Too Much Happiness”

  1. carolinareads
    August 14th, 2011 @ 10:03 pm

    I love short-stories that analyze human behavior, their short size makes possible for me to get every single nuance and every single reflection that the author makes. I love short stories that make me think.

  2. Sarah
    August 14th, 2011 @ 11:29 pm

    Fantastic review, Cookie.

    I loved Runaway, but never put it on my blog because it was just to hard to dissect. Although I recall that you did just fine!

    I do want to read more Munro, she has a special voice.

  3. Kinna
    August 15th, 2011 @ 1:52 pm

    I love short stories but I’ve only just picked up my first Munro collection, Open Secrets . She is quite a prolific writer but I wonder if her incredible output sometimes compromises the quality of her writing. Anyway, thanks for the review. I’m looking forward to my read and I do hope that I connect with her stuff.

  4. Alex (The Sleepless Reader)
    August 16th, 2011 @ 11:42 am

    With a title like that I would expect all gloom and misery… Never read anything by her, but I think I’ll start wit one of her novels. Will check out Runaway.

  5. anothercookiecrumbles
    August 20th, 2011 @ 10:16 am

    @carolinareads: I’ve never been a big fan of short stories, but every now and again, I come across a short story (or collection) that makes me go wow, and I wonder if I really should spend more time on them.

    @Sarah : I took the easy route out with Runaway, i.e. spent 200 words describing the book, without any real content. Fluff, really!

    @Kinna : I hope you enjoy your first Munro. I haven’t heard/read anything negative about Munro’s writing yet, so I would like to believe that she maintains her high standards throughout.

    @Alex : Haha, I know. The irony. I don’t know why I was expecting otherwise!! Runaway is amazing – I recommend it heartily.

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