October 7, 2009

Too Much Happiness - Alice Munro

I love Alice Munro stories. In small doses. A single volume = a small dose. The summer I tried to read a 700-page (small print) "Selected Stories" anthology, I had to take a break 2/3 of the way through or else I would have become suicidal!

Too Much Happiness is her newest collection of short stories, and I was able to detect many familiar Munro-vian themes - loss of childhood innocence, marriage break-down, aging, inter-generational misunderstanding. However there are a few changes - I noticed more male protagonists (though I will have to look back through her other recent books to see if this is a new thing), and some of the stories end more optimistically than is her wont.

I think that what I love most about Alice Munro is her ability to draw you right into the mind of her protagonist so that you see all events happening from that character's point of view, and often to the point where you, the reader, are blind to the character's weaknesses. Then often there is a twist at the end (possibly a moment of self-revelation for the character) where you get a glimpse of them from the point of view of another.

My favourite story in this collection? "Wood." This is one of the stories with a male lead - an older man whose wife snaps out of a major depression in a moment of crisis. Just a beautifully told moment of every-day life that left me smiling at the end.

My least favourite story in this collection? The title story, "Too Much Happiness." I didn't enjoy this story as much, as it is not a typical Munro story. First of all, she took a real person (albeit one who lived more than 100 years ago), researched her life, and then told the story of the final days of her life with flashbacks to her earlier life. I think that the historical detail weighed her down too much as it was being written - it kept alternating with the very personal, character point of view that I mentioned above, with some paragraphs of bald, clumsy, fact-telling. And the title is definitely ironic, as the story does not end with the character experiencing too much happiness.

So I guess if you are a Munro fan (as I am), you will probably enjoy this newest collection; but if you are not a fan of hers, then you probably aren't going to pick this book up in the first place!

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