Too Much Happiness
by Alice Munro

Knopf, 2009. ISBN 978-0-307-26976-8.
Reviewed by Linda Joy Myers
Posted on 04/30/2010

Fiction: Literary; Anthologies/Collections

To enter an Alice Munro story, you must be prepared to venture into alien worlds—not as in a science fiction world, but worlds, minds, and experiences that you don't expect. Through the minds of Munro's characters, you encounter what seems like the ordinary details we all are familiar with—a business meeting, rooming with a girlfriend, summer camp. But the reader may be surprised by the angles that begin to jut out of what appears to be the core of the story, just as you think you understand the basic idea, such as a story about a man and woman living off the land—a well matched couple, according to the point of view of the woman. Then, as you sink into the particulars of their life together, the story breaks and we find ourselves in the period of another story years later, following the enticing, yet slightly confusing breadcrumbs of promise that we will be, in the end, either satisfied or enlightened.

Munro does all the things that short story writers are cautioned not to do; she covers great swaths of time, she summarizes huge chunks of story. She changes point of view several times, and skips back and forth in time, weaving a narrative that not only requires your full attention but also makes you bring all your intelligence to it. While you are in the process of sorting and trying to understand what is going on, you find that you must let go of your previous notions and expectations of story, characters, epiphanies, and denouements. It's in the gap created somehow by Munro's tightly woven prose—broken up by questions, asides, and illogical conclusions—that you are whisked away to some other level of consciousness, to the mysteries in the story. While this story itself seems to unwind naturally, out of the corner of your eye tiptoe characters, plot points, and insights you could never have predicted, waylaying you with an "aha," a pain in the ribs, or a curious restlessness that makes you keep turning the pages.

The stories are enigmatic—the title story Too Much Happiness left me confused but curious enough to reread it; and other stories seemed to beckon with the promise of resolution, only to leave me surprised at the secrets revealed as if the characters had been turned inside out while I wasn't looking.

These stories by Alice Munro are not casual reading—they make demands of you, forcing you to wrestle with their dark revelations. But in them, you find yourself—secret bits that you would never reveal to a soul. Munro captures and excavates these secret moments and lays them open to us. Moreover, you will be changed by them, if you can suspend your judgments and expectations. Perhaps that is her point.

Alice Munro is a Canadian short-story writer, winner of the 2009 Man Booker International Prize , three-time winner of Canada's Governor General's Award for fiction, and a contender for the Nobel Prize.

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