I am now reading Alice Munro’s short story collection Too Much Happiness. It has been an eye-opening experience so far because Munro has a very interesting way of looking at things, and a peculiar way of narrating. She’s definitely a clever woman, has a sharp eye for what’s going on in life, and I guess I could describe her style of storytelling as subtle.
The narration was a bit difficult to get into, some things she doesn’t describe in a simple, straightforward manner but takes little “detours” within sentences, or paragraphs. E.g. “My mother had a bachelor cousin who used to visit us on the farm once a summer. He brought along his mother, Aunt Nell Botts. His own name was Ernie Botts” (62). “Libraries in a house were known to me only from books. This one was entered through a panel in the dining room wall” (79). But I would still not call her narration elaborate or wordy.
When she’s narrating, she presents the information to us from a multitude of points of view, which slightly startled me a few times. Many of the stories cover long time spans, and within the stories, the transitions are always interesting; some of them I found a bit abrupt, but all that unexpectedness keeps you engaged. The stories in the collection often start and end at not so significant points of the characters’ lives, there is action in the stories of course, but usually in the middle. So the endings do not look very decisive, or the solution to the problem is not really “out there” and in “Wenlock Edge”, for example, I had to go back to the story to figure out what exactly happened at the end. “Fiction” has also has an implied, but a tricky ending, but luckily I got that in one go 🙂 The titles are well chosen, they’re usually words or phrases of some significance in the stories.
Among the stories, I found “Dimensions” touching, but in a unique way. The one titled “Face” is very insightful. This is a story about a guy who was born with a large purple birthmark covering one half of his face. A taster from the story:
“At home my father’s most vivid quality was a capacity for hating and despising. In fact those two verbs often went together. […]
Calls a spade a spade. That was what was said of him.
Of course a production like myself was an insult he had to face every time he opened his own door. […]
It can be seen that I could not contribute to a comfortable marriage. […]
What I seem to be saying, I guess, is that I may have been a pretext, a blessing even, in that I furnished them with a ready-made quarrel, an insoluble problem that threw them back on their natural differences where they may in fact have been more comfortable. (140-141).
And now a passage from “Fiction”:
“Nevertheless Joyce takes the book to bed with her that night and turns dutifully to the table of contents. About halfway down the list a list catches her eye.
Mahler. Familiar territory. Reassured, she turns to the page indicated. Somebody, probably the author herself, has the sense to supply a translation.
‘Songs on the Death of Children.’
Beside her, Matt gives a snort.
She knows that he has disagreed with something he is reading and would like her to ask what it is. So she does.
‘Christ. The idiot.’
She puts How We Are to Live face down on her chest, making sounds to show that she is listening to him” (50).
In the blurb, it says “These are dazzling, provocative stories about manipulative men and the women who outwit them, about destructive marriages and curdled friendships, about mothers and sons, about moments which change or haunt a life.” I can now figure out which aspects of which stories these phrases refer to, and I think that’s an apt description. Well, overall, I think the book didn’t win the Booker in 2009 for nothing.