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Too Much Happiness [Large Print] [Library Binding]

Alice Munro
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Jan. 1 2010 Center Point Platinum Fiction (Large Print)
Ten superb new stories by one of our most beloved and admired writers—the winner of the 2009 Man Booker International Prize.

In the first story a young wife and mother receives release from the unbearable pain of losing her three children from a most surprising source. In another, a young woman, in the aftermath of an unusual and humiliating seduction, reacts in a clever if less-than-admirable fashion. Other stories uncover the “deep-holes” in a marriage, the unsuspected cruelty of children, and how a boy’s disfigured face provides both the good things in his life and the bad. And in the long title story, we accompany Sophia Kovalevsky—a late-nineteenth-century Russian émigré and mathematician—on a winter journey that takes her from the Riviera, where she visits her lover, to Paris, Germany, and, Denmark, where she has a fateful meeting with a local doctor, and finally to Sweden, where she teaches at the only university in Europe willing to employ a female mathematician.

With clarity and ease, Alice Munro once again renders complex, difficult events and emotions into stories that shed light on the unpredictable ways in which men and women accommodate and often transcend what happens in their lives.

Too Much Happiness is a compelling, provocative—even daring—collection.
--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Description

Quill & Quire

In his 2004 New York Times review of Alice Munro’s Runaway, author Jonathan Franzen painted himself into a corner by bluntly stating what has likely occurred to most reviewers of Munro’s work: “Runaway is so good that I don’t want to talk about it here. Quotation can’t do the book justice, and neither can synopsis. The way to do it justice is to read it.” Exactly. Why bother plundering the thesaurus for not-too-trite superlatives or repeating for the umpteenth time that each of Munro’s stories is as rich and textured as a novel and that reading one of them replicates the experience of peeling away the most intimate and overlapping layers of several characters’ lives? Read the work. Just read the work. But the seasoned book-review reader, alert to the splashy tones of log rolling, to fetishistic enthusiasm and lazy hyperbole, is bound to recoil at this demand, asking, “Is the work really that good? Really?” Yes, the work is that good. The pertinent question is: why? Munro’s latest collection, Too Much Happiness, provides enough material for such an enquiry. The signature locations – the towns and cities of southwestern Ontario and coastal B.C. – are all accounted for, as are the minutely etched Munro characters, the striving young women boxed in by convention, family ties, and self-sabotage, and the careless and calculating men who promise them a richer life, then deliver too much or too little on that promise. There is also, in every story, any number of friends, lovers, cousins, maiden aunts, stricken mothers, distant fathers, and suddenly intimate strangers, each acting in ways that are both duplicitous and guileless, frank and secretive, stubborn and yielding. Munro excels at depicting such paradoxes. She roots her stories in the point of view of a single character whose conversational, introspective tone is initially endearing to the reader. I’m a little like that, the reader thinks, I observe things, I am often pulled out of the moment by a chance memory or association. Munro makes you like her protagonist, then through the action of the story makes you wish you’d withheld judgment a little longer. Hidden seams of resentment, pride, vanity, and schoolyard cruelty are revealed, and if readers are honest enough, they will eventually recognize a kinship with the story’s protagonist they’d likely never admit even to a close friend. “Fictions,” perhaps the collection’s best story, offers a master class in this technique. Joyce is a bright woman from a dreary Ontario town who marries Jon, her high school’s even brighter light. The pair trip around North America exploring the fringes of various countercultures before settling down in rural B.C. Jon works with wood, Joyce teaches music; together they build a workable life. When Jon leaves Joyce for his homely apprentice Edie, an ex-prostitute, the reader relishes Joyce’s withering assessment of Jon: “He’s such an infant sexually, it all makes you sick.” All very good, but it’s hard to sympathize with Joyce when she engineers a magnificent Christmas concert at the local school with no real purpose but to impress Jon, whom she assumes will attend with Edie, whose daughter Maggie is one of Joyce’s easily manipulated students. Later, our sympathies shift again when Joyce discovers that Maggie, now a successful author, has published a story about a small-town music teacher who temporarily transformed the life of an emotionally vulnerable student. The ending is restrained and completely surprising. Secondary characters, often introduced in off-hand anecdotes or meandering recollections, eventually emerge from the sidelines, shocking the story’s protagonist with their refusal to act according to type. The collection is stocked with such vibrant personalities, such as Roxanne, the chatty, dirty-joke-telling masseuse in “Some Women,” who brings unexpected lightness into the home of a dying man, or the confident best friend and summer-camp bunkmate who participates in a ghastly crime in “Child’s Play.” Munro also continues to experiment with narrative, creating a deliberate sense of formlessness that mimics the sudden twists and stutter-steps of her protagonists’ inner and outer lives. She does this by loosening or omitting key support beams in a story’s structure – details are forgotten or overlooked in the telling, intentions misinterpreted, wrong turns taken – creating strange but believable gaps in plausibility and causality. Many of the plots rely on coincidence, chance encounters, or uncharacteristic last-minute changes of plan, but Munro subtly links these eruptions of the uncanny to character and setting. The collection’s only near misstep is the title story. Though it contains the texture and complexity of Munro’s best work, “Too Much Happiness,” which fictionalizes a love affair involving 19th-century Russian mathematician Sophia Kovalevski, lacks much of the attention-riveting, lived details of those stories set within Munro’s lifetime. The effect is a little disappointing, leaving the reader with the feeling of having read a great author in translation, the language a shade removed from the  grandeur of the original. In the end, however, Too Much Happiness, like the majority of Munro’s work of the last quarter century, leaves this reviewer with nothing more original to say than that Alice Munro might be the best English-language author writing today. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

“Filled with subtle and far-reaching thematic reverberations. . . . [Munro has] an empathy so pitch-perfect. . . . You [are] drawn deftly into another world.” —The New York Times Book Review

"Profound and beautiful.” —Francine Prose, O, The Oprah Magazine

“Alice Munro has done it again. . . . [She] keeps getting better. . . . Her brush strokes are fine, her vision encompasses humanity from its most generous to its most corrupt, and the effect is nothing short of masterful.” —The San Francisco Chronicle

“Richly detailed and dense with psychological observation. . . . Munro exhibit[s] a remarkable gift for transforming the seemingly artless into art . . . [She] concentrate[s] upon provincial, even backcountry lives, in tales of domestic tragicomedy that seem to open up, as if by magic, into wider, deeper, vaster dimensions.” —Joyce Carol Oates, New York Review of Books
 
“A perfect 10. . . . With this collection of surprising short stories, Munro once again displays the fertility of her imagination and her craftsmanship as a writer.” —USA Today
 
“Masterly. . . . [A] remarkable new book.” —The Los Angeles Times
 
“Daring and unpredictable. . . . Reading Munro is an intensely personal experience. Her focus is so clear and her style so precise. . . . Each [story is] dramatically and subtly different.” —The Miami Herald
 
“A brand-new collection of short stories from Alice Munro—winner of a Man Booker Prize—is always cause for celebration, and Too Much Happiness doesn’t disappoint. It dazzles. The 10 spare, lovely tales are . . . brimming with emotion and memorable characters. . . . Munro’s are stories that linger long after you turn the last page.” —Entertainment Weekly, Grade A
 
“Finely, even ingeniously, crafted. . . . Deliver[ed] with instinctive acuity.” —The Seattle Times
 
“Rich. . . . Truthful, in the deepest sense of the word. . . . Reading an Alice Munro short story is like sinking into a reverie. She expertly captures the shadings and byways of associative thought. . . . [Munro] will surely be remembered as the writer who took the short story to the depth of what short fiction can plumb.” —The Kansas City Star, Best 100 Books of 2009
 
“Rich and satisfying. . . . A commanding collection and one of her strongest. . . . Short fiction of this caliber should be on everyone’s reading list. Munro’s stories are accessible; she simply writes about life. . . . Honest, intuitive storytelling that gives the short story a good name.” —Chicago Sun-Times
 
“There's never too much happiness in a Munro collection, just sentence after sentence to die for.” —Louisville Courier-Journal
 
“[Munro is] universally acknowledged as one of the greatest short-story writers of our time. . . . [Her] work [is] at such a high level. . . . These stories are extraordinary, ample with the shrewdness and empathy that we have come to take for granted in Munro. . . . Her most distinguishing characteristic as a writer is . . . her extraordinary intimacy with her characters.” —The New Republic
 
“Coherent and compelling. . . . Munro manages to turn the sentimental into the existential.” —The Philadelphia Inquirer
 
“Stunning. . . . An unexpected gift. . . . Here we have 10 perfectly honed pieces, each a study of the human psyche in hard-to-imagine circumstances that Munro presents, seemingly effortlessly, in an economy of words and sentences.” —The Buffalo News
 
“As always in her distinctive stories, Alice Murno’s style is vivid, her attention tireless, her curiosity omnivorous, and her sentences drawn from the freshest of springs.” —The Washington Post
 
“If there’s a better short story writer working today than Alice Munro, I haven’t read her. In story after story, Munro manages to compress whole lives and emotional arcs into 20 or so shapely pages, long enough to engage us in their world but short enough to absorb in a single sitting or commute. Her prose is spare without feeling rushed or cryptic, at once lucid and subtle.” —Heller McAlpin, The Christian Science Monitor
 
“I sit still for Alice Munro’s expository passages every time. She lays down such seemingly ordinary but useful sentences, one after another after another. . . . I stay to marvel. . . . Is there anyone writing short fiction today in English who has more authority?” —Alan Cheuse, NPR
 
“Beautiful. . . . With great insights into human nature.” —The Grand Rapids Press
 
“All varying degrees of excellent. . . . A work of supreme observational power, employing Munro’s deft, controlled sentences in the service of essaying characters who don’t realize they’re living their lives on the brink until revelation rushes over them.” —The A.V. Club
 
“Another piercing collection. . . . It’s a testament to Munro’s mastery that she can make the lurid sing with nuance and explicability. . . . Her ear for dialogue is unerring. . . . Whatever format you favor in storytelling, go ahead and enter Too Much Happiness.  It will carry you safely through the gates, and no doubt send you looking for other castles constructed by the stunning Alice Munro.” —The Plain Dealer
 
“Shows Munro’s skills at their best.” —The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
 
“Outstanding. . . . [Munro] writes concise descriptions that bring characters and settings to life. . . . [and] throws in observations that serve as nuggets of wisdom.” —The Wichita Eagle
 
“Consistently engrossing . . . Thoughtfully wrought. . . . [The] material is given piercing clarity by the resolute simplicity and restraint of Ms. Munro’s prose. . . . She can raise hackles on the back of your neck with a precisely phrased unadorned verb or noun. . . . The Munro magic is showcased brilliantly.” —The Washington Times
 
“The unanticipated is in full force here, fresh and exciting. Munro seems to say that mundane lives constructed of order and routine are still governed by random acts. She hides human complexity in the ordinary until it surfaces in unimagined ways.” —The Providence Journal
 
“As poignant [and] chilling as they come. . . . Why [Munro] is rightly regarded as a master of the form is her deliberate, suspenseful layering of characters and circumstances. . . . Every story in Too Much Happiness is, in a sense, a life story. . . . It’s as if the characters are reading along with these mini life lessons, emerging with enviable wisdom and perspective.” —The L Magazine
 
 
“Munro is the master of the inevitable surprise. . . . [She] has an uncanny ability to take us inside a character’s mind.” —The St. Petersburg Times
 
“Few writers can match the clarity and immediacy of Munro’s descriptions whether she is portraying a subsiding marriage, a treacherous childhood, or the erotic and intellectual sojourn of a 19th century Russian mathematician.” — The Boston Globe
 
“These ten short stories cement the capstone on what fellow Canadian Margaret Atwood has described as Munro’s ascent to ‘international literary sainthood’. . . . The title story . . . is, in length and scope, Munro’s most ambitious story to date. . . . May this house of hers, and its autumnal gardens, continue to be harvested to glorious effect.” —The Oregonian
 
“Intrigue and manipulation fill the vividly drawn stories in this collection.” —The Sacramento Bee
 
“More occurs in Munro’s short stories than in most novels. . . . The pieces here . . . are thrilling permutations of her recurring themes: love, regret, the re-framing of one’s own personal narrative over time.” —The New York Post
 
“More than virtually anyone else’s, Alice Munro’s stories unfold in surprising ways that nonetheless seem perfectly right. They are marvels of unhurried compression in which precision looks casual, in which everything is clearly in its place, though no one else might think to put it exactly thus.” —Minneapolis Star Tribune

Praise from fellow writers:

“Her work felt revolutionary when I came to it, and it still does.” —Jhumpa Lahiri

“She is one of the handful of writers, some living, most dead, whom I have in mind when I say that fiction is my religion.” —Jonthan Franzen

“The authority she brings to the page is just lovely.” —Elizabeth Strout

“She’s the most savage writer I’ve ever read, also the most tender, the most honest, the most perceptive.” —Jeffery Eugenides

“Alice Munro can move characters through time in a way that no other writer can.”—Julian Barnes

“She is a short-story writer who…reimagined what a story can do.” —Loorie Moore

“There’s probably no one alive who’s better at the craft of the short story.” —Jim Shepard

“A true master of the form.” —Salman Rushdie

“A wonderful writer.” —Joyce Carol Oates


From the Trade Paperback edition. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
38 of 39 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Why read a novel when you can read Munro Sept. 2 2009
By J. Tobin Garrett TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
I have never read a full book of Alice Munro's short stories before this one. I mean, I've read a few here and there, and actually, as it turned out, had already read two of the stories in this collection in magazines, but never read a full book cover to cover.

Short stories get a bad rap. I've heard people complain of finding them a waste of time, or hard to get into, or unsatisfying. Well, to those people I say: You have just not been reading good short stories. And Alice Munro writes good short stories. Her stories span years, lives, births and deaths--they are novels crammed into 30 pages and you never feel like it could have been longer or shorter. She writes real characters that breathe on the page.

Here the stories tend to also revolve around a single person who arrives in each story and disrupts or changes something in some way. Sometimes, like in Free Radicals, the person is obvious, the change overt; but in other stories, such as the title story Too Much Happiness or Wood it is much more subtle. These stories are mostly about women (as I think much of her work is) and many are told from the point of view of someone older and looking back on their lives, remarking on the person that sparked the change in their lives.

Sometimes the content can be shocking. Perhaps I had an unfair view of Munro going in that her stories would be somewhat bland. Too Much Happiness proved that I was wrong several times, as almost each story contains an event, some violence or treachery or sexual act, but which is never held over the reader in a vulgar way.

I look forward to working backwards now and discovering more from her.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Powerful Short Stories Oct. 31 2009
By Ian Gordon Malcomson HALL OF FAME TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
Here are ten reasons why you might want to pick up this award-winnning collection of short stories:
A. It deals with the very real challenges facing vulnerable women in the modern world;
B. As a series of unrelated stories it offers very unique and creative situations which women are faced with having to make ultimately courageous decisions;
C. The stories are well crafted in respect of providing credible characters to match believable circumstances;
D. The main characters - dominated and often abused women - gradually emerge from their ordeals as tragic figures who are very chastened but emboldened by their ordeals;
E. Munro does a wonderful job in setting the tone of the conflicts in her stories so that the reader can actually feel the pain and anguish of soul resulting from these various altercations;
F. The author chooses a different kind of story to end the book: one that deals with how a mature woman avoids being victimized by other people's manipulations by moving on before she becomes entrapped;
G. As usual, Munro deals with common people and their down-to-earth predicaments, which endears her to many empathic Canadians who have been there and done that;
H. Her prose is so well measured that it is effortless to read;
I. Strategically-placed irony abounds in these stories;
J. She has renewed my interest in the genre of the short story; not an easy feat considering I usually do everything to avoid them because they are too flimsy in structure and content.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A pleasant selection of short stories Dec 12 2013
By S Svendsen TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I have never been a fan of short stories. I have found that with the typical short story it is like a) I am parachuted into a scenario. I have had little introduction to the characters or the environment in which they operate. Gradually I am given enough information to get acquainted; b) The plot—if there is one—does not have enough time to develop; c) I may have liked the story but find the ending is too abrupt, leaving too many questions that will never be answered.

Alice Munro being awarded the Nobel Prize in literature motivated me to buy two of her books. Having finished ‘Too Much Happiness’ I am still not much of a fan of short stories but that doesn’t mean I am not impressed by Munro’s literary skill. She is a superb writer and I think it is tragic that she has only published one novel. The story at the end of the book from which has been taken its title is a biography of Sophia Kovalevsky, a Russian mathematician, a genius, who struggled to be accepted among the exclusionary male academia of the late 19th century. It occupies 56 pages which is much longer than most short stories. Her life was marked by her fervent passion for mathematics, but she also married and became a mother and, having later becoming a widow, she was awakened to amour with a fellow academic who probably didn’t deserve her devotion. The story is mainly told in the ‘present’ time leading up to Sophia’s death, with many flashbacks from her earlier life.

Most of the stories are very agreeable but after finishing the book (unlike after having finishing a novel) it is difficult to remember what it was about, except for the lengthy last story. This is a good book for anyone who doesn’t have much time to read but it can also be enjoyed by novel-enthusiasts who may want a break from complicated plots and extravagant characterizations.
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5.0 out of 5 stars To teach English March 22 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I am using this book to teach English. My students are Spanish speaking and have read little English fiction. The book is so interesting to them, that they are reading far above their level just to find out what happens in the stories.
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Most recent customer reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars very disappointed
I did not receive my purchase and was very disappointed.......I don't think it was sent out as they are saying it was probably lost in the mail, which has never happened... Read more
Published 8 months ago by Marjorie
5.0 out of 5 stars `This might even turn into a funny story that she would tell some...
When I picked up this collection of ten short stories by Alice Munro, I had no idea what I was letting myself in for. Read more
Published on Nov. 3 2011 by Jennifer Cameron-Smith
3.0 out of 5 stars More Bookish Thoughts...
Yes, I know Alice Munro is one of the most successful story-tellers in Canada and, yes, I know she is extremely talented and profound. Read more
Published on May 30 2011 by Reader Writer Runner
4.0 out of 5 stars Another collection of remarkable stories
I was captivated by all of the stories in this collection. My one complaint is with the title story, which is actually a novella based on the life of Russian matthematician and... Read more
Published on Nov. 10 2010 by Gordon Neufeld
5.0 out of 5 stars Quintessential Munro
Too Much Happiness is a splendid collection of Munro's short stories. If you have read her before, you will not be disappointed. Read more
Published on Nov. 16 2009 by G. Garcia
4.0 out of 5 stars Shocking but Universal
While Alice Munro is Canadian, she is also universal in her themes and subjects.

"Free Radicals" is shocking in the insidious way we are told how the heroine "got rid... Read more
Published on Oct. 15 2009 by Lily Lai
4.0 out of 5 stars Munro is a master. As good as always.
[Cross-posted to LibraryThing and LivingSocial]

In the story 'Face', from this most recent collection of Munro's, she writes

"In your life there are a few... Read more
Published on Sept. 16 2009 by Andrea
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