Too Much Happiness. Alice Munro.

Munro, Alice. Too Much Happiness. Penguin Canada Toronto 2009. F; 2/11.

Another wonderful collection of short stories from Alice Munro. This time, I seemed to find the dreadful things that always happen to her characters predictable. It wasn’t exactly (PLOT ALERT) that I was waiting for the creep in Dimensions to kill the children, but I knew he was going to do something crazy and horrible. There wasn’t a moment’s doubt in my mind that the little boy was going to fall into the Deep-Hole (END PLOT ALERT).  I had to go online and look at some criticism of Wenlock Edge to get the plot straight, and although it fell together once I found out what happened it could have been rendered a bit more transparently.

For some reason probably unique to me I find Alice Munro’s characters over-real in an odd ironic way which seems too wooden and idiotic to be intentional, but she’s so damn good how couldn’t it be? The people seem to me to be looking at us out of a brightly colored tugboat picture by EJ Hughes. Not that they’re all West Coasty (which many of them are), but that they are clearer-than-life, sort of jaunty, caricatures. Hihodeo! There’s old Billy swinging his forearms back and forth in front of himself and singing I’m a lumberjack and I’m okay (to exaggerate my impression for emphasis). It’s too much like a grade 8 English class to me, reassuringly familiar though that may be.

I want wonderful Alice at least to hint at something more sophisticated and literary, of which she’s got to be capable. Or maybe this straighter-than-straightforward is exactly how she sees things, maybe she really is a literary EJ Hughes, perfect, precious, and archaic, beyond sophistication. Or maybe she does and I just miss it…

Of course the stories are page-turners reliably pulled along at an exciting clip by her dazzling story-telling, like all the very best serious fiction. I might have some quibbles, but I won’t be passing up her next collection. 8.6/7??

About John Sloan

John Sloan is a senior academic physician in the Department of Family Practice at the University of British Columbia, and has spent most of his 40 years' practice caring for the frail elderly in Vancouver. He is the author of "A Bitter Pill: How the Medical System is Failing the Elderly", published in 2009 by Greystone Books. His innovative primary care practice for the frail elderly has been adopted by Vancouver Coastal Health and is expanding. Dr. Sloan lectures throughout North America on care of the elderly.
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