The XX Factor

Book of the Week: “Too Much Happiness”

I’ve already started pressing Alice Munro’s Too Much Happiness on my friends, and the one who finished my copy gave it back with a shiver and the comment, “Good. Creepy!” That sums up Munro’s writing, in this book more than many of her others. Critics have faulted the stories in this volume for an excess of crime and blood. Children die, a murderer holds a woman hostage in her house, a skanky old man gets a young woman to take off her clothes and read him poetry in his library. I did not mind. To me, Munro’s excellence as a writer builds on and then far outstrips her creepiness. And the images that haunt me from this book are some of the more florid ones, if I’m honest. In particular, the end of the opening story, “Dimensions” (a favorite of none of the reviewers I’ve read). A woman is taking the bus to visit her husband in prison. He’s there because he killed their three children, but she is still in his thrall. From the window of the bus, she sees a driver plunge into a ditch and fly out of his truck. She gives him back life by breathing into his mouth. “Shy but steady whiffs now, a sweet obedience in the chest. Keep on, keep on.” She tells the bus driver to go on without her. She has broken her husband’s hold over her after all.

Hanna and Margaret Talbot and I will talk about Too Much Happiness for a DoubleX book club in a couple of weeks. Read it and write in here or on Facebook , before or after, to ask questions or tell us what you think.