Skip to main content Skip to search Skip to search

Fiction Literary

Too Much Happiness

by (author) Alice Munro

Penguin Group Canada
Initial publish date
Sep 2012
Literary, Short Stories (single author), Contemporary Women
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Sep 2012
    List Price

Add it to your shelf

Where to buy it


Brilliantly paced, lit with sparks of danger and underlying menace, these are dazzling, provocative stories about Svengali men and the radical women who outmanoeuvre them, about destructive marriages and curdled friendships, about mothers and sons, about moments that change or haunt a life. Alice Munro takes on complex, even harrowing emotions and events, and renders them into stories that surprise, amaze, and shed light on the unpredictable ways we accommodate what happens in our lives.

Munro’s unsettling stories turn lives into art, and expand our world and our understanding of the strange workings of the human heart.

About the author

Alice Munro grew up in Wingham, Ontario, and attended the University of Western Ontario. She has published ten previous books-Dance of the Happy Shades; Lives Of Girls And Women; Something I've Been Meaning to Tell You; Who Do You Think You Are?; The Moons Of Jupiter; The Progress Of Love; Friend of My Youth; Open Secrets; The Love of a Good Woman; and Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage-as well as Selected Stories, an anthology of stories culled from her dazzling body of work.

During her distinguished career, Munro has been the recipient of many awards and prizes, including the W.H. Smith Award in the United Kingdom and, in the United States, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in Short Fiction, the Lannan Literary Award, and the Rea Award for the Short Story.

In Canada, her prize-winning record is so extraordinary-three Governor General's Awards, two Giller Prizes (one of which was for Runaway), the Trillium Book Award, the Jubilee Prize, and the Libris Award, among many others-that it has been ironically suggested that as such a perennial winner, she no longer qualifies for new prizes. Abroad, acclaim continues to pour in. Both Runaway and Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage won the Commonwealth Writers' Prize Best Book Award, Caribbean and Canada region, and were chosen as one of the Books of the Year by The New York Times.

Alice Munro's stories appear regularly in The New Yorker, as well as in The Atlantic Monthly, Saturday Night, and The Paris Review. She and her husband divide their time between Clinton (in “Alice Munro country”), Ontario, and Comox, British Columbia.

if (SYM == "BIO") { document.writeln(""); } else { document.writeln(""); }

Alice Munro's profile page

Excerpt: Too Much Happiness (by (author) Alice Munro)

Wenlock Edge 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. He was a tall, florid man with a good-natured expression, a big square face, and fair curly hair springing straight up from his forehead. His hands, his fingernails, were as clean as soap, and his hips were a little plump. My name for him—when he was not around—was Earnest Bottom. I had a mean tongue. But I believed I meant no harm. Hardly any harm. After Aunt Nell Botts died he did not come anymore but sent a Christmas card. When I went to university in London—that is in London, Ontario—where he lived, he started a custom of taking me out to dinner every other Sunday evening. It seemed to me that this was the sort of thing he would do, because I was a relative—he would not even have to consider whether we were suited to spending time together. He always took me to the same place, a restaurant called the Old Chelsea, which was upstairs, looking down on Dundas Street. It had velvet curtains, white tablecloths, little rose-shaded lamps on the tables. It probably cost more than he could afford, but I did not think of that, having a country girl's notion that all men who lived in cities, wore a suit every day, and sported such clean fingernails had reached a level of prosperity where indulgences like this were the usual thing. I had the most exotic offering on the menu, such as chicken vol au vent or duck à l'orange, while he always ate roast beef. Desserts were wheeled up to the table on a dinner wagon. There was usually a tall coconut cake, custard tarts topped with out-of-season strawberries, chocolate-coated pastry horns full of whipped cream. I took a long time to decide, like a five-year-old with flavours of ice cream, and then on Monday I had to fast all day, to make up for such gorging. Ernie looked a little too young to be my father. I hoped that nobody from the university would see us and think he was my boyfriend. He inquired about my courses, and nodded seriously when I told him, or reminded him, that I was in Honours English and Philosophy. He didn't roll up his eyes at the information, the way people at home did. He told me that he had a great respect for education and regretted that he did not have the means to continue his own after high school. Instead, he had got a job working for the Canadian National railways, as a ticket salesman. Now he was a supervisor. He liked serious reading, but it was not a substitute for a university education. I was pretty sure that his idea of serious reading would be the Condensed Books of the Reader's Digest, and to get him off the subject of my studies I told him about my rooming house. In those days the college had no dormitories—we all lived in rooming houses or cheap apartments or fraternity or sorority houses. My room was the attic of an old house, with a large floor space and not much headroom. But being the former maid's quarters, it had its own bathroom. On the second floor were the rooms occupied by two other scholarship students, who were in their final year in Modern Languages. Their names were Kay and Beverly. In the high-ceilinged but chopped-up rooms downstairs lived a medical student, who was hardly ever home, and his wife, Beth, who was home all the time, because she had two very young children. Beth was the house manager and rent collector, and there was often a feud going on between her and the second-floor girls about how they washed their clothes in the bathroom and hung them there to dry. When the medical student was home he sometimes had to use that bathroom because of the baby stuff in the one downstairs, and Beth said he shouldn't have to cope with stockings in his face and a bunch of intimate doodads. Kay and Beverly retorted that use of their own bathroom had been promised when they moved in. This was the sort of thing I chose to tell to Ernie, who flushed and said that they should have got it in writing. Kay and Beverly were a disappointment to me. They worked hard at Modern Languages, but their conversation and preoccupations seemed hardly different from those of girls who might work in banks or offices. They did their hair up in pin curls and painted their fingernails on Saturdays, because that was the night they had dates with their boyfriends. On Sundays they had to soothe their faces with lotion because of the whisker-burns the boyfriends had inflicted on them. I didn't find either boyfriend in the least desirable, and I wondered how they could. They said that they had once had some crazy idea of being translators at the United Nations, but now they figured they would teach high school, and with any luck get married. They gave me unwelcome advice. I had got a job in the college cafeteria. I pushed a cart around collecting dirty dishes off the tables and wiped the tables clean when they were empty. And I set out food to be picked up from the shelves. They said that this job was not a good idea. "Boys won't ask you out if they see you at a job like that." I told Ernie this, and he said, "So, what did you say?" I told him that I had said I would not want to go out with anybody who would make such a judgment, so what was the problem? Now I'd hit the right note. Ernie glowed; he chopped his hands up and down in the air. "Absolutely right," he said. "That is absolutely the attitude to take. Honest work. Never listen to anybody who wants to put you down for doing honest work. Just go right ahead and ignore them. Keep your pride. Anybody that doesn't like it, you tell them they can lump it." This speech of his, the righteousness and approval lighting his large face, the jerky enthusiasm of his movements, roused the first doubts in me, the first gloomy suspicion that the warning, after all, might have some weight to it.

Editorial Reviews

"This book can make your skin crawl with its uncoverings of the transitoriness and precariousness of comfortable everyday existence … a masterpiece of plotting…. Written with veteran assurance, brimming with intensely believeable characters and rich social detail, these dispatches from the most unsparing reaches of Munro’s imagination confirm her acclaimed place on the highest ground of contemporary fiction."
—Peter Kemp, Sunday Times

"She has the lightest of touches, with every word seeming entirely necessary."
—Lorna Bradbury, Telegraph Review

"Alice Munro’s latest collection of short stories reaffirms her as a writer of piercing insight…. Some of the most honest, intuitive and exacting fiction, long or short, of our time."
—Tom Gatti, The Times

"She is one of the grandees of English-language short fiction … Her prose is clean, precise and unmannered … she gives the impression of being able to make the form do pretty much anything she wants."
—Christopher Taylor, Saturday Guardian

"She writes with a beautiful, mathematical clarity, an elemental humanity and a marvellous, limpid, funny apprehension of what goes on."
—Jane Shilling, Telegraph

"There is a substantial quality to Munro’s stories that makes you feel you have stumbled on an entire world, but have been given only a peek into the protagonists’ lives, which will continue apace when your eye has long since passed over them…. Cleverly wrought, intense pieces of work."
—Rosemary Goring, Sunday Herald

"Alice Munro has done more than anyone to raise the status of the short story … really, who could be better?"
—Claire Harman, Evening Standard

"A style both calm and deliberate, fluid yet tightly controlled, stark yet compassionate, is what makes her insights into the human condition so profound."
—Mary Crockett, The Scotsman

Other titles by Alice Munro