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Too Much Happiness

By Sheryl Spencer

Too Much Happiness
By Alice Munro
(Douglas Gibson Books) $32.99

Alice Munro’s latest book of short stories, Too Much Happiness, confirms what all her other books have proven: that Munro comes to the art of the short story with her eyes wide open, her curiosity intact, her imagination flourishing and her craft as disciplined as ever.

Reading an Alice Munro short story is dangerous business. As usual, most of the stories are set in southern Ontario and in British Columbia, familiar settings for many of us. But in her understated style, Munro becomes an interpreter of experience, exalting the mundane and guiding us to places of uncomfortable intimacy. The term “short story” seems inadequate. Munro gives us little planets to which we may play tourist — indeed voyeur — for a brief and intense time. 

Now approaching 80, Munro brings to this collection a sense of wisdom and perspective, but also an uncommon daring. She takes on upper-case subjects — Evil, Temptation, Murder, Revenge — and presents them among the lower-case lives of small-town people, complete with the raw, uneasy, dirt-under-the-fingernails details.

The title story, however, presents a turn from the usual with a real-life subject and a European setting. Munro chronicles the last days of 19th-century Russian mathematician and novelist Sophia Kovalevsky. It is on her deathbed, amid fits of fever and intermittent wakefulness, that Kovalevsky’s most innovative ideas come to her.

Hopefully, Munro does not identify with this. In 2009, Munro won the Man Booker International Prize for her body of work. She should not have any worries about leaving this world with regrets. Clearly, she is doing exactly what she is meant to do.

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