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TOO MUCH HAPPINESS by Alice Munro (McClelland &.
TOO MUCH HAPPINESS by Alice Munro (McClelland & Stewart), 320 pages (cloth), $32.99. Rating: NNNNN
The title of her latest collection could sum up the feeling Alice Munro’s fans get when they encounter her work. Yet is it possible to get too much of a good thing?
Hardly, when you’re in the hands of such an inventive writer, one whose carefully crafted, richly suggestive stories burrow their way into the subconscious like actual memories.
Even in her late 70s, this year’s Man Booker International Prize winner gets to show off some new tricks. Two of the stories are among the handful she’s written from a male point of view, including the long-uncollected story Wood, set in the world of tree-cutting and forestry.
The insights Munro offers here – and in the story Face, narrated by a man born with a disfiguring birthmark – should quash any notion that she’s exclusively a chronicler of the lives of girls and women.
Long-time readers will note subtle allusions to earlier stories – a play on one of her titles here, a similar character there – making this feel like a look back at four decades of creating fiction.
In fact, one of the most enigmatic stories is called Fiction, which is told in a playful, sophisticated fashion. Munro presents a series of scenes, catapults us to a time years later and then adds a clever twist about a young writer of short stories that has us reading the whole tale again.
About those endings: they’re chiselled and satisfying but often open-ended, allowing the narratives’ mysteries to deepen and take root.
I’ve read Some Women – about a group of women tending to a dying man – several times, and with each encounter I see something new, some surprise flaring up in a character or bit of dialogue.
Violence and sexuality lurk beneath many of the stories: family murders, a questionable death by drowning, a creepy fetishist. But these aren’t the point of the stories.
As Nita, the compelling character in the story Free Radicals, tells us, “She hated to hear the word ‘escape’ used about fiction… it was real life that was the escape.”
So true. This is fiction to live by.
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