Too Much Happiness – Alice Munro
Alice Munro is a Canadian short-story writer whose Chekovian touch to her stories has won her worldwide accolades – including the Man Booker International in 2009 and the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2013. She has almost always dealt with short stories exclusively, even her one novel Lives of Girls and Women is written in such a fragmentary form, almost like small stories fitted together. She is a master of her craft of short stories and very rightly so.
In Too Much Happiness, each story revolves around individuals who have had to encounter some unprecedented event in their lives which have altered them remarkably. Munro isn’t interested in standard literary aesthetics and her stories prove that point. They are not beautiful or inspiring, but they do surprise and dazzle us in their moments of revelations. Munro's best stories are not about moments, but lives—lives that began before and will continue after the period she chooses to show you.
“These are stories about manipulative men and the women who outwit them, about destructive marriages and curdled friendships, about mothers and sons, about moments which change or haunt a life” (taken from the blurb).
In the first tale ‘Dimensions’, a young woman, working as a cleaner in a motel, takes three buses to visit her husband, who is incarcerated in a mental facility. You think the story ends when you discover the terrible events that had placed him there. But no, the tale goes on, and seems to be about the terrible power he still has over her even after she should be free of him.
In other stories like 'Fiction', 'Deep Holes' and 'Too much Happiness' also, she makes you sit, and contemplate the choices/decisions taken by characters, at different points in their lives. Decisions, which if, were different from those taken, would have altered their living tremendously.
In ‘Free Radicals,’ a surprisingly resilient old lady copes with a home invasion, and in ‘Some Women,’ a teenage girl takes on a job as carer for a dying man. And in the most devastating story of all, ‘Child's Play,’ two girls who become best friends in summer camp then break off all contact; only at the very end, when one is old and the other dying, do we learn the reason why.
In the title story ‘Too much Happiness’, she embarks on a different route. She chronicles with mingled fiction, the true story of Sofia Kovalevskaya, the first female university professor in mathematics in Russia during the late-nineteenth-century. She rises to fame from a humble background. Her journey involving those decisions which help her find her place in the society.
Violence and sexuality lurk beneath many of the stories: family murders, a questionable death by drowning, a creepy fetishist etc. This showcases her brutal honesty regarding human nature. How human beings hurt each other, plan to kill, deceive and cheat, but beneath all that smaller evils also linger. This makes her stories a little unsettling because these natures and human behaviours are so strange, that they are all possibly true (if you get what I mean).
Ordinary people and extraordinary events that change them - this is the hallmark of her writing. She has a capacity to remind us that every individual’s life is a narrative that can be shaped in myriad ways and propels them to overcome or even live with the consequences of their choices.