Too Much Happiness is a collection of short stories written by Alice Munro in 2009. I know short stories aren’t everyone’s cup of tea (there was an interesting discussion about them recently on The Socratic Salon) but I really enjoy them – when they are done well, and these were.
Alice Munro has a way of drawing me in from pretty much the first sentence and painting pictures of people and places that feel very real to me. I was amazed throughout this book just how quickly I became involved in the stories and attached to the characters.
There are 10 stories in this collection and all but one, Too Much Happiness, are set in Canada sometime in the past (between the late 40s and 70s I think). And all, bar one, are pure fiction as far as I can tell. Too Much Happiness is the one that isn’t. Instead, it is based on the last days of Russian mathematician and novelist Sophia Kovalevsky.
This is the longest of the stories too. When I started it, I wasn’t sure if I was enjoying it and it didn’t seem to fit with the rest of what I’d been reading. In retrospect, though, it is one of the ones that has stayed with me most and it does follow the same themes of women trying to make their way in a world they seem slightly out of sync with. They are looking for their place in it, often after an important life event, and their expectations of themselves and others seem to change as they get older.
The other story I couldn’t let go of was Child’s Play, a tale of childhood cruelty and how this can be hard to let go of. There is a twist in the tail of this one that made me stop for more than a second. This story is about 30 pages, as are the rest, making them easy to fit in and read in bursts. As well as childhood, the stories deal with domestic abuse, infidelity, ruined friendships, mothers and sons, bereavement, and love. None are easy subjects and some are pretty uncomfortable reading. All are handled well, even the most disturbing, though – making me think back through my own life and ask questions of the world around me. They are all well worth a read. Highly recommended!