04 August 2010

Too Much Happiness by Alice Munro

Thoughts and Reflections:
I don't really know what to say about this book. I had been meaning to read Alice Munro for sometime, mostly because she is often grouped with my favourite author, Margaret Atwood. I admit, I began this book thinking it was a novel, not realising for sometime that was a compilation of short stories. Alice Munro almost strictly writes short stories. So, I was preoccupied all this while with how these stories and characters were connected. When I eventually realised that they weren't connected, the way I continued reading changed, becoming more involved in the individual stories, than the overall context/themes.

The first three stories depicted men very poorly and I wondered if the whole "novel" was going to be an exercise in man-hating. However, I soon realised that it wasn't only men that were depicted negatively, but just about every protagonist of each story was portrayed less than positively.

I would say, I am a bit of a cynic when it comes to humanity. These short stories certainly played into this idea, providing glimpses at the lives of various individuals, exploring their attitudes, motivations, desires, fortunes and misfortunes. A review by the Globe and Mail indicates, "Most importantly, these stories are not asking for our praise, they ask for our attention. They are not written for the crowd, but for the individual reader." I'd have to agree with this. This collection of short stories does not carry elements of self glorification or an excess of depressing topics. Rather, the stories walk the reader through a series of ideas about people and the human spirit.

I find myself a bit at a loss, however. I would love to discuss this book in a book club or at least hear the thoughts and reflections of others who have read this book or other works by Alice Munro. I feel like I was only able to skim the top of these stories, missing much of their depth. Certainly, I will have to read them again at a later time and see what new themes and information I come across.

I would certainly recommend this collection of short stories. I have every intention of reading View from Castle Rock in the near future and continue wandering through the works of Alice Munro. However, take note, this is not a novel, but a collection of short stories! :)

About the Author:
Alice Munro (nee Laidlaw) was born in July of 1931 in Ontario, Canada. She grew up on a fox and poultry farm and began writing as a teenager. She went to the University of Western Ontario where she published her first story in 1950. She dropped out of university in 1951 to get married. She and her husband then moved to Vancouver, BC where they had 3 daughters, one of whom died in infancy. In 1963, the family moved to Victoria where they had another daughter and opened Munro's Books. Returning to Ontario in 1972 after divorcing her husband, Alice became Writer-in-Residence at the University of Western Ontario. She married again in 1976. Her work tends to the Southern Ontario Gothic literary genre. She keeps to short stories for the most part and has won the Man Booker for her lifetime body of work, the Governor General's Award, and was a perennial contender for the Nobel Prize.

Point of Interest:
Southern Ontario Gothic, a sub-genre of Gothic, analyses and critiques social conditions in the Southern Ontario region. Main characteristics of this genre are stern realism, small-town Protestant morality, and moral hypocrisy. Typically, a character will suffer from mental illness as a means of critiquing actions and characters that go against humanity, logic, and/or morality. Dark images are used to create dark settings to form the background to examine the darkness of humanity. Other authors of this genre include Margaret Atwood, Graeme Gibson, and Jane Urquhart.

Things I Loved about this "Novel":
1. The ordinary, yet extraordinary circumstances in which the various protagonists found themselves.

2. This exploration of humans. I find I don't understand humanity in general, so this compilation provided some interesting insight on the matter

3. Each story, though short, was completely captivating. Often with short stories, I feel the ending to be abrupt, or that there is never enough time to get to know the characters and settings. I was lost in each one of these stories and find my thoughts returning to the various characters and situations.

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