Alice Munro’s Too Much Happiness, published in 2009 by Knopf, is her latest collection of short stories. As with most of her work, the collection focuses on the strength and vulnerabilities of women.
“Wenlock’s Edge” follows a London student in her relationship with her mother’s cousin and with Nina, her roommate. Nina is a curious, disturbed character who uses the narrator for her own entertainment. The narrator is tricked into discussing a dinner date with Nina’s lover, an older man named Mr. Purvis. During the narrator’s encounter with Mr. Purvis, he asks her to dine naked and read poetry to him.
The narrator of “Some Women” describes a summer job taking care of Bruce Crozier, who is dying. Bruce’s mother, Mrs. Crozier, is seduced by her masseuse, Roxanne. Roxanne attempts to seduce Bruce as well. The narrator is upset by what she witnesses of Bruce’s mother and Roxanne. The theme of this story is that the young grow old far too soon in the presence of toxic adults.
In “Child’s Play,” Munro develops a dark story about the cruelty of children. Marlene and Charlene are two friends at summer camp. Marlene recounts how she drowned Verna, a vulnerable girl. The narrator manipulates the reader in that the reader learns of this crime at the end of the story.
Munro’s characters face daunting challenges: adultery, divorce, depression, violence, and horrible accidents. The theme that holds the collection together is the strength of these women. The collection's final story, “Too Much Happiness," is about a historical figure named Sophia Kovalevski, a talented novelist and mathematician. Her first husband, the paleontologist Vladimir Kovalevsky, committed suicide. Sophia moves to Stockholm and wants to marry a distant relation of her husband’s, Maxsim Kovalevsky who is a law professor. She fumbles after this desire for happiness.
Critics note the subtle nuances of Munro’s writing that are her trademarks, as is her vivid invention. She has the ability to draw out the subtleties of a woman’s life in how she deals with marriage and domesticity.