Book Club: Too Much Happiness

I haven’t done well with updating the blog about the book club a friend and I started since the first meeting.

A brief survey of what we’ve read since: Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient (we loved it), Robertson Davies’ The Rebel Angels (excellent), Guy Gavriel Kay’s The Summer Tree (well liked, but I felt it over-rated), Kurt Vonnegut’s Timequake (I loved it, but this had our lowest attendance), E.M. Forster’s A Room With a View (not universally loved), Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita (adored and it made for great discussion).

These summaries are necessarily brief, but we’ll see about doing more complete write-ups of what we’re reading. 1

Alice Munro’s Too Much Happiness: Stories was our latest book club pick. I’d not read anything by her before, but since reading this I’ve picked up more. I love her style, perhaps because she scares me.

As advertised, she’s an amazing writer who, with but a few sentences, can capture the essence of an entire relationship. Witness this scene from “Deep-Holes”:

The Kool-Aid is poured, then the champagne. Sally and Alex touch glasses, with Savanna in their way. Sally has her sip and wishes to have more. She smiles at Alex to communicate this wish, and maybe the wish that it would be nice to be alone with him. He drinks his champagne, and as if her sip and smile have been enough to soothe him, he starts in on the picnic.2

Their dynamic is painfully depressing.

In “Wood” Ray, the only male main character in this collection, ignores the severe depression his wife is endures, accepting it as a matter of course, which may be reinforced by his solitary sojourns into the bush. He seems consoled by the fact that “She kept out the house adequately” even though “she rested between chores so that simple routines took her all day”.3 If they doctor’s say nothing can be done, there’s no use looking for alternate solutions. Ray’s got bigger problems.

In fact, none of her men are overly concerned with the interiority of the women they want to spend their lives with. There are no true partnerships in Munro’s world, it’s a chess game of subtle gender politics then men aren’t even aware they’re participating in. It’s maddening. Especially because she writes it so well.

Verdict: We like Alice Munro, but I feel creeped out by her portrayal of men.

Next month: The Complete Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi. Our first graphic novel.

Book club: Too Much Happiness
  1. For the nerds interested in what I’ve been reading, I keep a list here. []
  2. p. 96 []
  3. p. 227 []