Beyond the Book: Background information when reading Too Much Happiness

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Too Much Happiness

Stories

by Alice Munro

Too Much Happiness by Alice Munro
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Nov 2009, 320 pages
    Paperback:
    Nov 2010, 320 pages

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Marnie Colton

Buy This Book

About this Book

Beyond the Book

Print Review

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 that to grow lighter and fresher and puff things almost humorously out of her way."

MDMA (usually called by its street name, Ecstasy) wasn't synthesized until 1912, and "Too Much Happiness" ends with Sophia's death in 1891, so it can't be the doctor's remedy. Or can it? The effects that Sophia experiences - euphoria, heightened perception, a sense of well-being - certainly match those of MDMA, a compound that uniquely combines the qualities of a stimulant, a hallucinogen, and an entactogen (a drug that encourages feelings of openness and empathy). Until MDMA was made illegal in the United States in 1985, it enjoyed a reputation as a potentially liberating, albeit unorthodox, component of certain kinds of therapy, and some doctors still believe that it holds promise for treating post-traumatic stress disorder.

A much more prevalent drug at the end of the 19th century was morphine, a powerful painkiller derived from opium poppies. Heroin, first synthesized from morphine in 1874, did not become widely available until 1898. Nevertheless, a doctor, especially a German doctor (most of these drugs were synthesized by German chemists employed by pharmaceutical companies like Merck and Bayer), might have had access to heroin, and the language that Sophia's travel companion uses to describe the enigmatic tablet (it provides "a little rest" and "solace") does evoke typical reactions to narcotics.

Whatever this drug may be, in this instance it causes Sophia no ill after-effects; on her arrival in Stockholm, she delivers a lecture and then attends a party, although she soon leaves, "too full of glowing and exceptional ideas to speak to people any longer." From there, her health deteriorates and she becomes disoriented yet remains keenly aware of "a movement back and forth…a pulse in life."

Article by Marnie Colton

This article was originally published in November 2009, and has been updated for the November 2010 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

This article is available to non-members for a limited time. You can also read these articles for free. For full access become a member today.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Support BookBrowse

Become a Member and discover books that entertain, engage & enlighten!

Join Today!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: The Graybar Hotel
    The Graybar Hotel
    by Curtis Dawkins
    We – those of us on the outside – are lucky. So very lucky. We get to experience life &#...
  • Book Jacket: The Force
    The Force
    by Don Winslow
    Intense! That's the word. Winslow's The Force rips through its four hundred pages with the...
  • Book Jacket: Shadow Man
    Shadow Man
    by Alan Drew
    Alan Drew's debut novel, Gardens of Water, was an ambitious work of literary fiction set amid ...

Win this book!
Win The Library of Light and Shadow

The Library of Light and Shadow by M.J. Rose

"Possibly her best yet. A sensuous, sumptuous, and spellbinding novel." - Kirkus Reviews

Enter

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    The Necklace
    by Claire McMillan

    For readers of The Nest, the intelligent, intoxicating story of long-simmering family secrets.
    Reader Reviews

Word Play

Solve this clue:

T H Are B T O

and be entered to win..

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
The Atomic Weight of Love by Elizabeth J. Church

In the spirit of The Aviator's Wife, this resonant debut spans from World War II through the Vietnam War.

About the book
Join the discussion!

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.