Books

Too Much Happiness by Alice Munro

The stories reflect both the saturation and the irony indicated in the title: The world of this book is simply the other side of the coin, or the opposite of happiness.


Too Much Happiness

Publisher: Knopf
Length: 320
Author: Alice Munro
Price: $25.95
Format: Hardcover
Publication date: 2009-11
Amazon

Alice Munro is known for her gift to shine a light on the cobwebs of life, finding the complicated traps we are inclined ignore as we move through the mundane act of living. Munro, it has been said a thousand times before, makes the simple seem remarkable, the benign explosive. But in Too Much Happiness, for the first time, Munro writes stories that are in themselves dark and scathing, even without her delicate unearthing.

These are stories of murder, deception, dysfunction and impenetrable loss. Told with Munro's usual piercing directness, they are often so grueling that they are difficult to read. We are almost convinced that these are every day events yet simultaneously appalled at their innate cruelty, creating a great sense of angst and confusion. While Munro's past stories have offered a sliver of a protagonist's life that is enlightening and efficient, these stories often feel painfully unresolved.

The narratives she elucidates are sometimes so sharp and so helplessly honest, that they are hard to process. There is almost the urge to reach in and rescue the characters, never from their external enemies, but always from themselves. In the opening story, we meet Doree, a young woman who has reinvented herself after her husband kills their three children and cannot stop herself from frequently visiting him in a mental hospital.

The mind of this young woman is a twisted mystery; the reader is given facts but left to wonder at many things. She has changed her name, lied to a social worker and slipped in and out of rational consciousness. Whereas Munro can always be counted on to expose the concentrated truth, here she shows her ability to accurately and numbly report only the dizzying facts.

The stories reflect both the saturation and the irony indicated in the title: The world of this book is simply the other side of the coin, or the opposite of happiness. Sometimes the tales are so scathingly dark that they seem like they ought to take place in another universe, but they are disarming because they are written with such bleak realism. That said, the truth of these tales has caused a slight shift in Munro's writing style. Sometimes the narrative sputters and races.

In "Face", a child with a disfiguring birthmark is prevented from knowing of it by his overprotective mother. Disturbing interactions with a playmate reveal the truth, and also spell doom for her when her own mother becomes bitter, jealous and deranged. "Some Women", the story of ailing man's seduction by his trashy nurse, moves on par with the chaotic urges of its controlling characters, only to reveal that true power is wielded in silence.

These stories are bumpy where Munro's stories are usually smooth, and it is hard to say why. Perhaps in leaving her own routine she managed to change the tempo and rhythm of her own writerly voice. Perhaps she struggled with the dark material as much as her readers will. The subjects of these stories are violence, sexual perversion and gratuitous cruelty and it is almost those as though the content is at war with Munro's natural ability to flow.

Often the characters must act faster than they can think, creating an inherent anxiety in the text. In "Wenlock Edge", a woman given the choice between a humiliating seduction and impoliteness chooses the former without hesitation. Her dismay after this event is represented not by agony but by irritation. Like many of Munro's characters, the protagonists in this collection are trying to find clarity, but they bring with them an unprecedented sense of loss.

In "Free Radicals", a woman dying of cancer with a month to live finds herself doing all she can to protect herself against an intruder. Given the "choice" between death now or death later, she is both elegantly calm and wildly imaginative, digging into her own previously unacknowledged guilt. The question at the heart of this story, "what's the point of one more month of life, anyway?" might summarize the painful, forceful tug that lives beneath all the stories in this collection.

Each and every character in these stories seems to teeter on the edge of life and death, good and evil, hope and ambivalence. Together, these tales represent the underbelly of the world, clawing to turn the tides of judgment and fate.

7
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Music

Paul Weller - "Earth Beat" (Singles Going Steady)

Paul Weller's singular modes as a soul man, guitar hero, and techno devotee converge into a blissful jam about hope for the earth on "Earth Beat".

Games

On Point and Click Adventure Games with Creator Joel Staaf Hästö

Point and click adventure games, says Kathy Rain and Whispers of a Machine creator Joel Staaf Hästö, hit a "sweet spot" between puzzles that exercise logical thinking and stories that stimulate emotions.

Music

The 50 Best Post-Punk Albums Ever: Part 1, Gang of Four to the Birthday Party

If we must #quarantine, at least give us some post-punk. This week we are revisiting the best post-punk albums of all-time and we kick things off with Gang of Four, Public Image Ltd., Throbbing Gristle, and more.

Music

Alison Chesley Toils in Human and Musical Connectivity on Helen Money's 'Atomic'

Chicago-based cellist, Alison Chesley (a.k.a. Helen Money) creates an utterly riveting listen from beginning to end on Atomic.

Music

That Kid's 'Crush' Is a Glittering Crossroads for E-Boy Music

That Kid's Crush stands out for its immediacy as a collection of light-hearted party music, but the project struggles with facelessness.

Books

Percival Everett's ​​​'Telephone​​​' Offers a Timely Lesson

Telephone provides a case study of a family dynamic shaken by illness, what can be controlled, and what must be accepted.

Reviews

Dream Pop's Ellis Wants to be 'Born Again'

Ellis' unhappiness serves as armor to protect her from despair on Born Again. It's better to be dejected than psychotic.

Music

Counterbalance No. 10: 'Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols'

The Spirit of ’77 abounds as Sex Pistols round out the Top Ten on the Big List. Counterbalance take a cheap holiday in other people’s misery. Right. Now.

Film

'Thor: Ragnorak' Destroys and Discards the Thor Mythos

Taika Waititi's Thor: Ragnarok takes a refreshingly iconoclastic approach to Thor, throwing out the old, bringing in the new, and packaging the story in a colourful, gorgeously trashy aesthetic that perfectly captures the spirit of the comics.

Music

Alps 2 and Harry No Release Eclectic Single "Madness at Toni's Chip Shop in Wishaw" (premiere)

Alps 2 and Harry NoSong's "Madness at Toni's Chip Shop in Wishaw" is a dizzying mix of mangled 2-step rhythms and woozy tranquil electronics.

Music

Kathleen Grace and Larry Goldings Team for Wonderfully Sparse "Where Or When" (premiere)

Kathleen Grace and Larry Goldings' "Where Or When" is a wonderfully understated performance that walks the line between pop and jazz.

Music

Run the Jewels - "Ooh LA LA" (Singles Going Steady)

Run the Jewels' "Ooh LA LA" may hit with old-school hip-hop swagger, but it also frustratingly affirms misogynistic bro-culture.

Books

New Translation of Balzac's 'Lost Illusions' Captivates

More than just a tale of one man's fall, Balzac's Lost Illusions charts how literature becomes another commodity in a system that demands backroom deals, moral compromise, and connections.

Music

Protomartyr - "Processed by the Boys" (Singles Going Steady)

Protomartyr's "Processed By the Boys" is a gripping spin on reality as we know it, and here, the revolution is being televised.

Music

Go-Go's Bassist Kathy Valentine Is on the "Write" Track After a Rock-Hard Life

The '80s were a wild and crazy time also filled with troubles, heartbreak and disappointment for Go-Go's bass player-guitarist Kathy Valentine, who covers many of those moments in her intriguing dual project that she discusses in this freewheeling interview.

Music

New Brain Trajectory: An Interview With Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree

Two guitarists, Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree make an album largely absent of guitar playing and enter into a bold new phase of their careers. "We want to take this wherever we can and be free of genre restraints," says Lee Ranaldo.

Books

'Trans Power' Is a Celebration of Radical Power and Beauty

Juno Roche's Trans Power discusses trans identity not as a passageway between one of two linear destinations, but as a destination of its own.

Music

Yves Tumor Soars With 'Heaven to a Tortured Mind'

On Heaven to a Tortured Mind, Yves Tumor relishes his shift to microphone caressing rock star. Here he steps out of his sonic chrysalis, dons some shiny black wings and soars.

Music

Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras' tētēma Don't Hit the Mark on 'Necroscape'

tētēma's Necroscape has some highlights and some interesting ambiance, but ultimately it's a catalog of misses for Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras.

Music

M. Ward Offers Comforting Escapism on 'Migration Stories'

Although M. Ward didn't plan the songs on Migration Stories for this pandemic, they're still capable of acting as a balm in these dark hours.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews
Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.