The New York Times
Too Much Happinessby Alice Munro
Ten superb new stories by one of our most beloved and admired writers—the winner of the 2009 Man Booker International Prize.
With clarity and ease, Alice Munro once again renders complex, difficult events and emotions into stories about the unpredictable ways in which men and women accommodate/b>
WINNER OF THE NOBEL PRIZE® IN LITERATURE 2013
Ten superb new stories by one of our most beloved and admired writers—the winner of the 2009 Man Booker International Prize.
With clarity and ease, Alice Munro once again renders complex, difficult events and emotions into stories about the unpredictable ways in which men and women accommodate and often transcend what happens in their lives.
In the first story a young wife and mother, suffering from the unbearable pain of losing her three children, gains solace 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 tales uncover the “deep-holes” in a marriage, the unsuspected cruelty of children, and, in the long title story, the yearnings of a nineteenth-century female mathematician.
The New York Times
The New York Times Book Review
"Profound and beautiful.” —Francine Prose, O, The Oprah Magazine
“Alice Munro has done it again. . . . [She] keeps getting better. . . . Her brush strokes are fine, her vision encompasses humanity from its most generous to its most corrupt, and the effect is nothing short of masterful.” —The San Francisco Chronicle
“Richly detailed and dense with psychological observation. . . . Munro exhibit[s] a remarkable gift for transforming the seemingly artless into art . . . [She] concentrate[s] upon provincial, even backcountry lives, in tales of domestic tragicomedy that seem to open up, as if by magic, into wider, deeper, vaster dimensions.” —Joyce Carol Oates, New York Review of Books
“A perfect 10. . . . With this collection of surprising short stories, Munro once again displays the fertility of her imagination and her craftsmanship as a writer.” —USA Today
“Masterly. . . . [A] remarkable new book.” —The Los Angeles Times
“Daring and unpredictable. . . . Reading Munro is an intensely personal experience. Her focus is so clear and her style so precise. . . . Each [story is] dramatically and subtly different.” —The Miami Herald
“A brand-new collection of short stories from Alice Munro—winner of a Man Booker Prize—is always cause for celebration, and Too Much Happiness doesn’t disappoint. It dazzles. The 10 spare, lovely tales are . . . brimming with emotion and memorable characters. . . . Munro’s are stories that linger long after you turn the last page.” —Entertainment Weekly, Grade A
“Finely, even ingeniously, crafted. . . . Deliver[ed] with instinctive acuity.” —The Seattle Times
“Rich. . . . Truthful, in the deepest sense of the word. . . . Reading an Alice Munro short story is like sinking into a reverie. She expertly captures the shadings and byways of associative thought. . . . [Munro] will surely be remembered as the writer who took the short story to the depth of what short fiction can plumb.” —The Kansas City Star, Best 100 Books of 2009
“Rich and satisfying. . . . A commanding collection and one of her strongest. . . . Short fiction of this caliber should be on everyone’s reading list. Munro’s stories are accessible; she simply writes about life. . . . Honest, intuitive storytelling that gives the short story a good name.” —Chicago Sun-Times
“There's never too much happiness in a Munro collection, just sentence after sentence to die for.” —Louisville Courier-Journal
“[Munro is] universally acknowledged as one of the greatest short-story writers of our time. . . . [Her] work [is] at such a high level. . . . These stories are extraordinary, ample with the shrewdness and empathy that we have come to take for granted in Munro. . . . Her most distinguishing characteristic as a writer is . . . her extraordinary intimacy with her characters.” —The New Republic
“Coherent and compelling. . . . Munro manages to turn the sentimental into the existential.” —The Philadelphia Inquirer
“Stunning. . . . An unexpected gift. . . . Here we have 10 perfectly honed pieces, each a study of the human psyche in hard-to-imagine circumstances that Munro presents, seemingly effortlessly, in an economy of words and sentences.” —The Buffalo News
“As always in her distinctive stories, Alice Murno’s style is vivid, her attention tireless, her curiosity omnivorous, and her sentences drawn from the freshest of springs.” —The Washington Post
“If there’s a better short story writer working today than Alice Munro, I haven’t read her. In story after story, Munro manages to compress whole lives and emotional arcs into 20 or so shapely pages, long enough to engage us in their world but short enough to absorb in a single sitting or commute. Her prose is spare without feeling rushed or cryptic, at once lucid and subtle.” —Heller McAlpin, The Christian Science Monitor
“I sit still for Alice Munro’s expository passages every time. She lays down such seemingly ordinary but useful sentences, one after another after another. . . . I stay to marvel. . . . Is there anyone writing short fiction today in English who has more authority?” —Alan Cheuse, NPR
“Beautiful. . . . With great insights into human nature.” —The Grand Rapids Press
“All varying degrees of excellent. . . . A work of supreme observational power, employing Munro’s deft, controlled sentences in the service of essaying characters who don’t realize they’re living their lives on the brink until revelation rushes over them.” —The A.V. Club
“Another piercing collection. . . . It’s a testament to Munro’s mastery that she can make the lurid sing with nuance and explicability. . . . Her ear for dialogue is unerring. . . . Whatever format you favor in storytelling, go ahead and enter Too Much Happiness. It will carry you safely through the gates, and no doubt send you looking for other castles constructed by the stunning Alice Munro.” —The Plain Dealer
“Shows Munro’s skills at their best.” —The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
“Outstanding. . . . [Munro] writes concise descriptions that bring characters and settings to life. . . . [and] throws in observations that serve as nuggets of wisdom.” —The Wichita Eagle
“Consistently engrossing . . . Thoughtfully wrought. . . . [The] material is given piercing clarity by the resolute simplicity and restraint of Ms. Munro’s prose. . . . She can raise hackles on the back of your neck with a precisely phrased unadorned verb or noun. . . . The Munro magic is showcased brilliantly.” —The Washington Times
“The unanticipated is in full force here, fresh and exciting. Munro seems to say that mundane lives constructed of order and routine are still governed by random acts. She hides human complexity in the ordinary until it surfaces in unimagined ways.” —The Providence Journal
“As poignant [and] chilling as they come. . . . Why [Munro] is rightly regarded as a master of the form is her deliberate, suspenseful layering of characters and circumstances. . . . Every story in Too Much Happiness is, in a sense, a life story. . . . It’s as if the characters are reading along with these mini life lessons, emerging with enviable wisdom and perspective.” —The L Magazine
“Munro is the master of the inevitable surprise. . . . [She] has an uncanny ability to take us inside a character’s mind.” —The St. Petersburg Times
“Few writers can match the clarity and immediacy of Munro’s descriptions whether she is portraying a subsiding marriage, a treacherous childhood, or the erotic and intellectual sojourn of a 19th century Russian mathematician.” — The Boston Globe
“These ten short stories cement the capstone on what fellow Canadian Margaret Atwood has described as Munro’s ascent to ‘international literary sainthood’. . . . The title story . . . is, in length and scope, Munro’s most ambitious story to date. . . . May this house of hers, and its autumnal gardens, continue to be harvested to glorious effect.” —The Oregonian
“Intrigue and manipulation fill the vividly drawn stories in this collection.” —The Sacramento Bee
“More occurs in Munro’s short stories than in most novels. . . . The pieces here . . . are thrilling permutations of her recurring themes: love, regret, the re-framing of one’s own personal narrative over time.” —The New York Post
“More than virtually anyone else’s, Alice Munro’s stories unfold in surprising ways that nonetheless seem perfectly right. They are marvels of unhurried compression in which precision looks casual, in which everything is clearly in its place, though no one else might think to put it exactly thus.” —Minneapolis Star Tribune
Praise from fellow writers:
“Her work felt revolutionary when I came to it, and it still does.” —Jhumpa Lahiri
“She is one of the handful of writers, some living, most dead, whom I have in mind when I say that fiction is my religion.” —Jonthan Franzen
“The authority she brings to the page is just lovely.” —Elizabeth Strout
“She’s the most savage writer I’ve ever read, also the most tender, the most honest, the most perceptive.” —Jeffery Eugenides
“Alice Munro can move characters through time in a way that no other writer can.”—Julian Barnes
“She is a short-story writer who…reimagined what a story can do.” —Loorie Moore
“There’s probably no one alive who’s better at the craft of the short story.” —Jim Shepard
“A true master of the form.” —Salman Rushdie
“A wonderful writer.” —Joyce Carol Oates
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Read an Excerpt
Too Much Happiness
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.
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 is governmental law, he is capable of lecturing on the growth of contemporary political institutions in America, the peculiarities of society in Russia and the West, and the laws and practices of ancient empires. But he is not a pedant. He is witty and popular, at ease on various levels, and able to live a most comfortable life, due to his properties near Kharkov. He has, however, been forbidden to hold an academic post in Russia, because of being a Liberal.
His name suits him. Maksim. Maksim Maksimovich Kovalevsky.
The woman with him is also a Kovalevsky. She was married to a distant cousin of his, but is now a widow.
She speaks to him teasingly.
“You know that one of us will die,” she says. “One of us will die this year.”
Only half listening, he asks her, Why is that?
“Because we have gone walking in a graveyard on the first day of the New Year.”
“There are still a few things you don’t know,” she says in her pert but anxious way. “I knew that before I was eight years old.”
“Girls spend more time with kitchen maids and boys in the
stables—I suppose that is why.”
“Boys in the stables do not hear about death?”
“Not so much. Concentration is on other things.”
There is snow that day but it is soft. They leave melted, black footprints where they’ve walked.
She met him for the first time in 1888. He had come to Stockholm to advise on the foundation of a school of social sciences. Their shared nationality, going so far as a shared family name, would have thrown them together even if there was no particular attraction. She would have had a responsibility to entertain and generally take care of a fellow Liberal, unwelcome at home.
But that turned out to be no duty at all. They flew at each other as if they had indeed been long-lost relatives. A torrent of jokes and questions followed, an immediate understanding, a rich gabble of Russian, as if the languages of Western Europe had been flimsy formal cages in which they had been too long confined, or paltry substitutes for true human speech. Their behavior, as well, soon overflowed the proprieties of Stockholm.
He stayed late at her apartment. She went alone to lunch with him at his hotel. When he hurt his leg in a mishap on the ice, she helped him with the soaking and dressing and, what was more, she told people about it. She was so sure of herself then, and especially sure of him. She wrote a description of him to a friend, borrowing from De Musset.
He is very joyful, and at the same time very gloomy—
Disagreeable neighbor, excellent comrade—
Extremely light-minded, and yet very affected—
Indignantly naïve, nevertheless very blasé—
Terribly sincere, and at the same time very sly.
And at the end she wrote, “A real Russian, he is, into the bargain.”
Fat Maksim, she called him then.
“I have never been so tempted to write romances, as when with Fat Maksim.”
And “He takes up too much room, on the divan and in one’s mind. It is simply impossible for me, in his presence, to think of anything but him.”
This was at the very time when she should have been working day and night, preparing her submission for the Bordin Prize. “I am neglecting not only my Functions but my Elliptic Integrals and my Rigid Body,” she joked to her fellow mathematician, Mittag-Leffler, who persuaded Maksim that it was time to go and deliver lectures in Uppsala for a while. She tore herself from thoughts of him, from daydreams, back to the movement of rigid bodies and the solution of the so-called mermaid problem by the use of theta functions with two independent variables. She worked desperately but happily, because he was still in the back of her mind. When he returned she was worn out but triumphant. Two triumphs—her paper ready for its last polishing and anonymous submission; her lover growling but cheerful, eagerly returned from his banishment and giving every indication, as she thought, that he intended to make her the woman of his life.
The Bordin Prize was what spoiled them. So Sophia believed. She herself was taken in by it at first, dazzled by all the chandeliers and champagne. The compliments quite dizzying, the marvelling and the hand kissing spread thick on top of certain inconvenient but immutable facts. The fact that they would never grant her a job worthy of her gift, that she would be lucky indeed to find herself teaching in a provincial girls’ high school. While she was basking Maksim decamped. Never a word about the real reason, of course—just the papers he had to write, his need for the peace and quiet of Beaulieu.
He had felt himself ignored. A man who was not used to being ignored, who had probably never been in any salon, at any reception, since he was a grown man, where that had been the case. And it wasn’t so much the case in Paris either. It wasn’t that he was invisible there, in Sonya’s limelight, as that he was the usual. A man of solid worth and negotiable reputation, with a certain bulk of frame and intellect, together with a lightness of wit, an adroit masculine charm. While she was an utter novelty,
a delightful freak, the woman of mathematical gifts and female timidity, quite charming, yet with a mind most unconventionally furnished, under her curls.
He wrote his cold and sulky apologies from Beaulieu, refusing her offer to visit once her flurry was over. He had a lady staying with him, he said, whom he could not possibly present to her. This lady was in distress and needed his attention at the moment. Sonya should make her way back to Sweden, he said; she should be happy where her friends were waiting for her. Her students would have need of her and so would her little daughter. (A jab there, a suggestion familiar to her, of faulty motherhood?)
And at the end of his letter one terrible sentence.
“If I loved you I would have written differently.”
The end of everything. Back from Paris with her prize and her freaky glittery fame, back to her friends who suddenly meant no more than a snap of her fingers to her. Back to the students who meant something more, but only when she stood before them transformed into her mathematical self, which was oddly still accessible. And back to her supposedly neglected but devastatingly merry little Fufu.
Everything in Stockholm reminded her.
She sat in the same room, with the furniture brought at such foolish expense across the Baltic Sea. The same divan in front of her that had recently, gallantly, supported his bulk. And hers in addition when he skillfully gathered her into his arms. In spite of his size he was never clumsy in lovemaking.
This same red damask, on which distinguished and undistinguished guests had sat in her old lost home. Maybe Fyodor Dostoyevsky had sat there in his lamentable nervous state, dazzled by Sophia’s sister Aniuta. And certainly Sophia herself as her mother’s unsatisfactory child, displeasing as usual.
The same old cabinet brought also from her home at Pali - bino, with the portraits of her grandparents set into it, painted on porcelain. The Shubert grandparents. No comfort there. He in uniform, she in a ball gown, displaying absurd self-satisfaction.
They had got what they wanted, Sophia supposed, and had only contempt for those not so conniving or so lucky.
“Did you know I’m part German?” she had said to Maksim.
“Of course. How else could you be such a prodigy of industry? And have your head filled with mythical numbers?”
If I loved you.
Fufu brought her jam on a plate, asked her to play a child’s card game.
“Leave me alone. Can’t you leave me alone?”
Later she wiped the tears out of her eyes and begged the child’s pardon.
Meet the Author
Alice Munro grew up in Wingham, Ontario, and attended the University of Western Ontario. She has published thirteen collections of stories as well as a novel, Lives of Girls and Women, and two volumes of Selected Stories. During her distinguished career she has been the recipient of many awards and prizes, including three of Canada’s Governor General’s Literary Awards and two of its Giller Prizes, the Rea Award for the Short Story, the Lannan Literary Award, England’s W. H. Smith Book Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the Man Booker International Prize. In 2013 she was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Her stories have appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, The Paris Review, Granta, and other publications, and her collections have been translated into thirteen languages. She lives in Clinton, Ontario, near Lake Huron.
- Clinton, Ontario, and Comox, British Columbia
- Date of Birth:
- July 10, 1931
- Place of Birth:
- Wingham, Ontario, Canada
- University of Western Ontario (no degree)
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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I think Alice Munro is one of the most talented living author of short stories. For anyone who has never read a Munro story, don't be fooled by the kindly, harmless-looking old lady photo in the back cover flap. Munro provides just enough interesting surface details to lure a reader into her characters' lives - until she's got you irretrievably involved in the dark underbelly of those details. Believably bizarre and macabre events in a person's life story, drawn in the most delicate prose. All that said, I did not love all the stories in this collection. For instance, the "title track" feels too experimental, not as clean and well-crafted as the others. "Wenlock Edge" could also be shored up a bit. Although it is intricate and involved and plays around interestingly with literotica, one suddenly feels as though Munro got bored or lazy and ended the story as quickly as she could; and although her ending is the usual elegant, understated affair, the part just beforehand feels as though it got lobbed off. Aside from those two, however, the collection lives up to Munro's usual high standard. In my opinion, the best two stories are "Fiction" and "Free Radicals" (especially the former) - and "Dimensions" is a fabulous opener. The most disturbing, "Child's Play," succeeds on a double level in that Munro produces the same effect on the reader that the child storyteller is trying to achieve on her friend. Wonderful. If you like short stories in the (non-Southern) tradition of Flannery O'Connor, I am sure you will like most of this collection.
The rest of my bookclub praised this book. I found the stories quite strange and had some difficulty connecting to them. Her writing is wonderful, the stories not my favorite.
I absolutely hated this book. Each story was more and more depressing and sorrowful. Not in a thought provoking way , either. I would have stopped reading after the first one but I kept hoping that the stories would get better. They didn't. This book was terrible and I would NOT recommend it to anyone.
Alice Munro is my all time favorite author. In my opinion there is nothing else you could possibly want from a writer. That said, if you like plot-driven stories, this is probably not the book for you. These stories are very character-driven. If you've read other of Munro's books, I think you'll find that this one has a little bit of a darker edge.
The stories in Alice Munro's latest work, Too Much Happiness, are almost too vivid. Her characters, original and offbeat, find themselves doing and saying incredible things, but the stories are so well written, the prose is so flawless, the detail so exactly right, that the reader never questions the likelihood of such events. The masterful plots, leading often to horror by the most pedestrian of events, stick with you, haunting you and unsettling you. In one story, "Wendlock Edge" (the title is taken from a Housman poem), for example, the young woman narrator is asked to dinner at the home of a old rich man, a man we know for his ability to control the narrator's roommate, Nina, a girl who once "got herself pregnant," blames herself for he unhappy encounters with men, in other words. The manipulator's assistant instructs the narrator to strip before entering the dining room and she sits naked through dinner. Then the old pervert and the young woman adjuourn to the library where he asks her to read from A Shropshire Lad, instructing her, almost casually, not to cross her legs. It is not a seduction scene but a sexual assault, and as we read we realize the young woman will be haunted for a long time for her complicity in her own violation. When Nina runs away from her "sugar daddy/abuser," the narrator, perhaps to hit back at Nina, who had suggested she take her place at the dinner, informs the old manipulator where Nina is, and they disappear together. In another story, a successful woman looks back on her past in such a way that we are confused. She has never married, never maintained relationships; she seems to suffer from some form of world-weariness or ennui; then she learns that a woman she hasn't seen in years has died and requested of her a favor. When the woman tries to carry out the friend's dying request, we come to understand the secret she and the friend had kept since childhood, the secret that had destroyed their lives--their murder of a special education student while they were at camp; her past has haunted her, we come to realize, as surely as the past of young woman of Wenlock Edge will haunt her in the future. Munro has so much insight, so great an understanding of the human heart, that the stories, as artful as they are, come to feel almost like the stories close friends tell each other when they have nothing to hide and all the time in the world. These masterpieces of fiction in the hands of almost any other writer would have become novels, and we would have lost the intensity that Munro generates by restricting the size of her canvas.
If you're looking for happiness, it is not in this book. The depressing opening story is a staple on the evening news and frankly a waste of the non-refundable moments of my life. Ms. Munro is a fabulous writer, but I most likely will not read her again unless I find something a little less tragic.
What can I say, that hasn't been said, about Alice Munro's delectable writing about relationships? She is truly the master of modern short story writing, the closest thing we have today, to Flannery O' Connor. in "Too Much Happiness," she presents stories that are so authentic, that you feel like you know the characters, and they stay in your mind and heart long after you finish the book. My only complaint would be that I could have done without the perversion of "Wenlock Edge," which was beneath her!
This is a book with several stories - Munro uses language like a paintbrush - giving shading and color to the story. I liked all of the several stories - none better than the others. I believe she richly has deserved her Nobel prize for literature this year. I only need to see her name on a book and will automatically buy it.