Summary and book reviews of Too Much Happiness by Alice Munro

Too Much Happiness

Stories

By Alice Munro

Too Much Happiness
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  • Hardcover: Nov 2009,
    320 pages.
    Paperback: Nov 2010,
    320 pages.

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Book Summary

Ten superb new stories by one of our most beloved and admired writers—the winner of the 2009 Man Booker International Prize.

In the first story a young wife and mother receives release from the unbearable pain of losing her three children from a most surprising source. In another, a young woman, in the aftermath of an unusual and humiliating seduction, reacts in a clever if less-than-admirable fashion. Other stories uncover the “deep-holes” in a marriage, the unsuspected cruelty of children, and how a boy’s disfigured face provides both the good things in his life and the bad. And in the long title story, we accompany Sophia Kovalevsky—a late-nineteenth-century Russian émigré and mathematician—on a winter journey that takes her from the Riviera, where she visits her lover, to Paris, Germany, and, Denmark, where she has a fateful meeting with a local doctor, and finally to Sweden, where she teaches at the only university in Europe willing to employ a female mathematician.

With clarity and ease, Alice Munro once again renders complex, difficult events and emotions into stories that shed light on the unpredictable ways in which men and women accommodate and often transcend what happens in their lives.

i

Many persons who have not studied mathematics confuse it
with arithmetic and consider it a dry and arid science.
Actually, however, this science requires great fantasy.

—Sophia Kovalevsky

On the first day of January, in the year 1891, a small woman and a large man are walking in the Old Cemetery, in Genoa. Both of them are around forty years old. The woman has a childishly large head, with a thicket of dark curls, and her expression is eager, faintly pleading. Her face has begun to look worn. The man is immense. He weighs 285 pounds, distributed over a large frame, and being Russian, he is often referred to as a bear, also as a Cossack. At present he is crouching over tombstones and writing in his notebook, collecting inscriptions and puzzling over abbreviations not immediately clear to him, though he speaks Russian, French, English, Italian and has an understanding of classical and medieval Latin. His knowledge is as expansive as his physique, and though his speciality ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Dimensions
    As in her earlier story "Runaway," Munro examines the effects of the psychological domination of one person by another. Why does Doree visit her husband in jail? Lloyd's letters are a central part of the story: why does his notion that he has seen the children in another "dimension" (page 29) bring a kind of comfort to Doree? Does her thought that Lloyd, "of all people, might be the person she should be with now" (page 30) seem sensible, or dangerous? When she is on her way to the prison once again, Doree miraculously resuscitates a young man: how does this act connect to the title, and what does the final scene suggest about her future?

  2. Fiction
    From whose...
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Reviews

BookBrowse

A remarkable meditation on the themes closest to Munro's heart: hateship, friendship, courtship, loveship, marriage, to quote the title of her 2002 collection. Her stories always take the road less traveled to foster epiphanies in their characters and a subtle yet deep satisfaction in the reader... in her unflinching portrayal of misjudgments, accidents, and serendipitous exchanges, Munro has crafted a dark masterpiece.   (Reviewed by Marnie Colton).

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Media Reviews
The Globe & Mail (Canada)

Most importantly, these stories are not asking for our praise, they ask for our attention. They are not written for the crowd, but for the individual reader. They don't ask for noise, but for silence – and not an awed silence at that (though awe is certainly possible), but the silence that happens when you close a book and pause and continue with your life, less lonely than you were before.

The Calgary Herald (Canada)

This May's announcement of Munro as the third winner of the prestigious Man Booker International Prize for a body of work should be enough to convince any lingering doubters not only that the short story is alive and well, but that Munro's fine literary offerings are as worthy as any novels. It should help confirm, too, that the well-titled Too Much Happiness is the surest bet for this fall's reading pleasure.

The Spectator (UK)

This collection is (mostly) as strong and vivid as ever.

The Independent (UK)

This wonderful new collection continues to explore her chief preoccupation – what is it that constitutes a life, and gives it its uniqueness, in the absence of any sign of singularity .... Many of Munro's characters, and the prism of her narratorial voice, are deeply "normal"; and it's this air of stubborn, sociable normalcy that she at once enriches and undermines...

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. [T]he collection delivers what she's renowned for: poignancy, flesh and blood characters and a style nothing short of elegant.

Booklist

Starred Review.

Kirkus Reviews

It's hard to imagine that anyone could write stories richer than these. Until the next Munro collection.

Los Angeles Times

The power of random events lies at the heart of Too Much Happiness... Faced with such a world one might well wonder: How are we to live? That is the question Munro has asked throughout her career, and continues to address in this remarkable new book.

ELLE

Each of the stories in Alice Munro’s new collection... reads like a novel, not in miniature, but—miraculously, magically—in full... [This] tour-de-force volume... is classic Munro—at once deep, devilish, and divine

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Beyond the Book

Too Much Happiness=Ecstasy?
Munro's stories often contain mysterious elements that deepen their appeal, leaving the reader with something extra to savor, like a fine mint after an especially flavorful dinner. No story in the collection better exemplifies this than "Too Much Happiness," a tale brimming with sadness that nonetheless ends in ecstasy. The chemical origins of that ecstasy begin when the doctor on the train gives her a pill, saying only "'This will give you a little rest if you find the journey tedious.'" Suffering from a sore throat and nagging cough, Sophia finally takes the pill that not only lessens tedium but also makes her feel "as if her heart could go on expanding, regaining its normal condition, and continuing after ...

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