Sunday 6 March 2016

Too Much Happiness by Alice Munro Book Review

I read this book in search of Munro's magic.  How does she write such excellent, award-winning short
stories?  I came up with a few ideas, but I believe the trick of her magic is that one cannot distance themselves far or long enough to decipher just what it is.  The story just yanks you in.

Part of her genius is creating characters who instantly grab your interest and empathy.  Despite their imperfections and weaknesses, perhaps even because of these, they are real, live and breathing.  They have fully-formed beliefs, back stories and values.  They are also situated in tangible settings with sights, scents and sounds.  Even though I read Munro's Lives of Girls and Women over a decade ago, I can still feel the stuffy parlour, hidden thicket and swaying prairie grasses.  Her characters and settings are unforgettable.

However, even more compelling is that I can never guess where her stories will go.  How does she keep the reader guessing?  Reading these ten short stories in a row, I was not able to catch her method, except to know I would be surprised, but also, somehow, satisfied.  This is a gift indeed.

I enjoyed all of the stories in this collection, but two, especially, grabbed my interest.  Fiction was one of my favourites.  I enjoyed the passage of time and the idea of the writer as first one obsessed and then, the one to be obsessed about.  This was fulfilling.  I also loved Too Much Happiness for its seemingly effortless product of research.  I liked that Munro was so intrigued by the life of  Sophia Kovalevsky that she read everything she could about her and then imagined her life into one beautifully-formed story capsule.

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