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Too Much Happiness (2009)

by Alice Munro

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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2,277976,962 (3.85)203
Nine new short works include the stories of a grieving mother who is aided by a surprising source, a woman's response to a humiliating seduction, and a nineteenth-century Russian émigré's winter journey to the Riviera.

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English (74)  Spanish (9)  Swedish (3)  Finnish (3)  German (2)  Dutch (2)  Danish (1)  Catalan (1)  French (1)  All languages (96)
Showing 1-5 of 74 (next | show all)
Not enough happiness if you ask me. ( )
  Abcdarian | May 18, 2024 |
Green trees behind the stars

Media Audio
Read by: Kimberly Farr, Arthur Morley
Length: 11 hrs and 40 mins

This collection of ten short stories was my introduction to Alice Munro. I was surprised at the diversity of her tales and I must confess I’m still not sure of her sub-genre. Too Much Happiness is a mixed bag.

My favorite story was Wood”, a story about a carpenter’s love of trees and the revival of his love for his wife after an accident in a forest’s edge. I was absolutely engrossed in the description of the trees, each type being described in the minute detail of their individual shape, bark color and texture, leaf and size. I felt like leaping out of bed and walking to Central Park to examine aspects of trees that I’ve never paid attention to. How could I have lived all these years and not looked?

I least-liked the title story. It’s five chapters and follows a 19th century scientist and her lover through her long trip from Russia to the French Riviera and back again. Had it been the first story I read I would most likely have marked the book as a DNF. I could not see the point of the rambling account, the characters were uninteresting, the events unremarkable, and the plot unintelligible.

Of the rest “Holes”, a story of a mother of whose eldest son drops out to live squats in Toronto, interested me more. More convincing than the title story it conveyed emotion and was anchored in a time and place that I can understand.

I have to believe that this collection is not representative of Munro’s writings. I would have preferred stories of equivalent length rather than the nine stories and a novella. I feel that I haven’t come to grips with this writer, but still look forward to reading more of her work. There is something there, but what is it? ( )
  kjuliff | Mar 6, 2024 |
This is an always beautifully written, often deeply unpleasant, collection of stories that, with the exception of the last story, seem to me to be connected by a common tone that is designed to create a particular relationship with the reader. Alice Munro structures her narratives to capture the reader's curiosity and use it as tether for the imagination, herding the reader along at a pace in a direction not of their choosing.

Alice Munro could have used this path to get the reader to like, or at least sympathise with, the first-person narrators of these stories. She chooses not to.

Instead, she salts her prose with small, perfectly formed crystals of bitter understanding. She chooses to displace empathy with insight and the insights are most often into the actions and thoughts that most of us would not publicly want to admit to. Her narrators see the people around them and sometimes, albeit often in retrospect, with disturbing clarity, like a series of candid photographs, perfectly composed to capture the moment but with none of the mental softening of focus or deepening of colour that memory often provides.

Many of the stories are told by older narrators who describe the actions and emotions of their childhood or youth. This device is not used to create the cosy feel of a 'Let me share my story' narrative that is understood to have the veracity of a story that starts 'Once Upon A Time'. Instead, it is used to produce two specific effects on the reader: to defer judgment and to become complicit in the narrator's worldview.

The deferment of judgment is promoted by the implication that the older person now telling the tale may think and behave differently than her younger self and so the person now should not be judged for what the person then did. This plea for a deferment of judgment is bolstered by reminding the reader that 'These were different times and we all behaved differently then.' implying that the narrator should not be held to account for doing or saying or thinking what everyone else did.

Then, if the reader does defer judgment, suspending the reactions their values and beliefs would normally prompt, the more subtle argument is slipped into the reader's mind like a whisper in the ear from the narrator. The whisper goes something like: 'We were all monstrous as children. You'd know that if you let yourself remember honestly'. followed by the more insidious 'And even as adults, we still harbour those hates and prejudices, we've just learned not to let them show'. Until, as story after story rolls by, the reader is pushed to conclude 'This is how people were and are. If you're honest, you'll recognise that you are like this too',

Perhaps I'm projecting this intent onto the text. But then, that's part of what a reader of fiction is supposed to do.


What a hard-hitting but still hopeful story. Not much happiness anywhere in sight. Desperation. Grief. Insanity. Irretrievable loss. And yet, a refusal to stop there. To be trapped there. To let that be all."


Some of this escapes me. I was swept along in the narrative of part 1 and then made to reset levels of intensity and curiosity when I was dumped into part 2 which took place years later and with less passion. Seeing Part 1 revisited through the lens of a fiction based on a child's memory was disorientating. The ending was so suspended I haven't landed yet

Wenlock Edge

A disconcerting story. The gap between the dispassion of the telling, especially in a first-person account - and the intensity of the experience was unsettling. It kept me focused on the young woman discovering what she was willing to do when asked rather than the old man with the strange needs.

Her self-discovery was not a momentary epiphany but rather a clinical analysis of her own actions and emotions. It contained neither fear nor joy, It was a 'So that's what I'm capable of' statement. It didn't ignore the damage she'd sustained during the experience but rather catalogued as the price of choosing transgression.

The 'Wenlock Edge' title, referring to the Housman poem the girl is asked to read aloud, got me thinking about how the story was told. Although it was a first-person account, it was told by an older woman looking back on her younger self. Enough time had passed that she details of how much things cost and what kind of foods were served were presented as period oddities, It made me wonder if, as she told this tale, she felt herself to be standing on Wenlock Edge seeing her own earlier troubles as "Are ashes under Uricon".

Deep Holes

A depressing story, perhaps because, with one exception, it felt like the description of an ordinary, what-more-can-you-expect? life. The exception was the MC's eldest son, who falls into more than one type of deep hole. her husband also seemed to live in a deep hole that he only occasionally emerged from. Her joy in a single portion of lasagne - tastes good and with no waste - read like an epitaph.

Free Radicals

This is the first story that I didn't believe. It felt too contrived to be real. Scenes worked. There were strong themes. But it felt like a collage thrown together. I did like the observations on grief and the ambiguity of the ending.


I didn't get this story.

I liked the main character's voice - a theatrical man born at the start of the 20th Century looking back on his troubled youth.

He rambled a bit, both in content and timeline but I put that down to his personality.

The content of the story, particularly what the little girl did and how the boy reacted when he found out, was vivid and unpleasant.

But what was the point of all that pain?

Some Women

This story is filled with sharp little slivers of spite that slide into the memory like splinters into a fingertip. The prose is scalpel, sharp and used with precision. The story is mostly unpleasant, the sort of thing it feels wrong to be reading about for pleasure, but the narrative pull is strong and the tone is deceptively passive so soon, the reader finds themselves complicit in the unwrapping, the disrobing of these relationships.

If O'Henry had written this story, it would have come across as a romantic affirmation of love. As Alice Munro tells it, through the memory of a woman now grown old but then young, it is instead a story of all the things that people don't say, of disguised intent, of temptation and manipulation, of a contest of wills and of young girl assessing the women around her, neither kindly nor with malice but with a determination to see what is there and not what she is being shown.

Child's Play

Another story with a woman in her sixties remembering her childhood self. This one captures the instinctual aggressions and aversions of childhood, the magical thinking of a mind not yet rational and the ease with which very young children shed their former selves each year like a snake sloughing off a skin.

I admired the skill of the slow reveal, which generated a sense that the outcome, no matter how disturbing, was, if not inevitable, then at least unsuprising.

What I liked most about the story was the main character's refusal of the possibility of absolution or atonement. She is someone who knows that what has been done cannot be undone and that some burdens cannot be set down.


This story didn't work for me. I couldn't connect with this man. He was locked into his head in a non-verbal way that I found impenetrable. I could see that there was probably an extended metaphor about how even the most isolated tree in a forest is still connected in complex ways to the forest but I couldn't get any traction with it.

Too Much Happiness

The parts of this story that dealt with how the main character thought about things enthralled me but through most of the story, I felt I was skating through a landscape that I couldn't quite bring into focus. I have only a superficial knowledge of the historical context of the story, which wasn't enough for me fully to understand what was going on a lot of the time. ( )
  MikeFinnFiction | Mar 1, 2024 |
although I read quite a few of these stories in the NYer, they still move me tremendously. ( )
  monicaberger | Jan 22, 2024 |
My favorite was "The Face" but they're all good. I read somewhere that Alice Munro is the Chekhov of Canada and I totally get it. The stories build slowly and it seems like nothing is going to happen and then BAM! There's a sharp turn and you see it all in a different light. ( )
  LibrarianDest | Jan 3, 2024 |
Showing 1-5 of 74 (next | show all)
The Germans must have a term for it. Doppel­gedanken, perhaps: the sensation, when reading, that your own mind is giving birth to the words as they appear on the page. Such is the ego that in these rare instances you wonder, “How could the author have known what I was thinking?” Of course, what has happened isn’t this at all, though it’s no less astonishing. Rather, you’ve been drawn so deftly into another world that you’re breathing with someone else’s rhythms, seeing someone else’s visions as your own.

One of the pleasures of reading Alice Munro derives from her ability to impart this sensation. It’s the sort of gift that requires enormous modesty on the part of the writer, who must shun pyrotechnics for something less flashy: an empathy so pitch-­perfect as to be nearly undetectable. But it’s most arresting in the hands of a writer who isn’t too modest — one possessed of a fearless, at times, fearsome, ambition.
added by zhejw | editNew York Times, Leah Hager Coen (Nov 27, 2009)
Alice Munro knows women. Yes, she’s a genius with words no matter what the subject, evoking lives rich with secret horrors, but it’s her skill at articulating the nuances of the female experience that makes one gasp with the shock of recognition. This collection, set mostly in classic Munro territory—out-of-the-way places around Ontario—boasts as many of these illuminating moments as her other books.
added by Shortride | editThe Atlantic (Nov 1, 2009)
Munro said in her acceptance speech for the Man Booker International Prize, which she was awarded earlier this year, cementing the wide acclaim she now commands, that she is interested not in happy endings but in “meaning… resonance, some strange beauty on the shimmer of the sea”. This remarkable collection certainly captures that – and more of a sense of happiness than might at first seem possible.

» Add other authors (3 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Alice Munroprimary authorall editionscalculated
Basso, SusannaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Boyce, PleukeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Farr, KimberlyNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Morey, ArthurNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Udina, DolorsTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Zerning, HeidiTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Nine new short works include the stories of a grieving mother who is aided by a surprising source, a woman's response to a humiliating seduction, and a nineteenth-century Russian émigré's winter journey to the Riviera.

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