Tuesday, August 31, 2010

"Too Much Happiness" by Alice Munro

Summary: A varied collection of short stories.

Musings: Although I don't read a lot of short story collections, I've found I tend to really enjoy them.  There's something about getting just a small snippet of a life that can be really affecting.  Munro's stories in Too Much Happiness are this way, and since I've read that these aren't necessarily her best work, I look forward to reading other pieces by her.

The stories I enjoyed the most were the most extreme--"Dimensions," about a woman coping after the terrible actions of her husband, "Free Radicals," about a woman confronted with a stranger after the loss of her husband, and "Child's Play," about the cruelty of children.  These, as well of most of the stories in the book, seemed to focus on a sense of loss.  The narrators themselves were typically lost, unmoored often by tragedy.  And, in many of these stories, it took a surprise and sharp moment to allow the narrators to refocus, perhaps not permanently, but in some way.  The narrator in "Child's Play" addresses something of this idea:
For a long while the past drops away from you easily and it would seem automatically, properly. Its scenes don't vanish so much as become irrelevant.  And then there's a switchback, what's been all over and done with sprouting up fresh, wanting attention, even wanting you to do something about it, though it's plain there is not on this earth a thing to be done. (190)
But although I overall enjoyed reading the work, I was also confused at times, feeling as if I was missing something.  "Wenlock Edge" had an enormously disturbing and perverse scene, but I had to look online to understand the ending.  Same with "Some Women."  Other stories, including "Wood," seemed to end abruptly and without significance.

I would probably need to reread most of the stories to get a fuller understanding.  Nonetheless, there's something haunting about each of Munro's pieces that stays with you and occasionally feels familiar.

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