Well folks, I’ve finally found every book lover’s dream right here in my home of Madrid, Spain. That’s right- a book club! Long gone are the days where I could discuss, tear apart, praise or scourge works of literature in my undergraduate English courses. It’s so nice to get together with like-minded ladies and talk about a book, that includes the good, the bad and the ugly, and share our thoughts.
For January, we read the 2013 Nobel Prize for Literature winner Alice Munro’s “Too Much Happiness”, which is a collection of 10 short stories all centrally focused on women and the people in their lives. While none of the characters reoccur in any story separate from their own, there’s definitely a repeating theme.
My thoughts: I didn’t like it.
Don’t be deceived by the title and let yourself think that these stories will be happy-they are not! I found most endings left wide open for interpretation as to the continuation of the character’s life but they were always left smack dab in the middle of misery. There’s not a sense of resolution or a hope for potential happiness. Nope, you just turn the page onto the next story and think, “That’s it? But…what happens?”
I didn’t find the character to be very engaging either, they just seemed one-dimensional, one and a half at best, and I never felt attached to a single one. I understand that with a short story there’s less time spent in a character’s world so you have to build them quickly for the reader’s imagination. Having clarified that, within the constrains of a short story, I still found the characters to be lacking. Sure, a little mystery is nice, wondering if they chose to do x or y because of an unknown component. Still, I found them to be as flat as the page on which they were written.
It was mentioned at the meeting, and I had already pondered the idea myself, that mayhaps Munro developed each character as an aspect of her own self. A mother, an academic, a wife, a daughter, a writer, etc. Throughout the 10 stories, each woman was entirely different from the previous protagonist in many aspects, such as, personality, career, and age. What seemed to be the overarching idea was that each woman seemed more or less powerless in her own defeat. Someone or something was consistently able to get the best of her whether it be death, betrayal, possession, control or any other unsavory power.
I found the one story I most enjoyed was “Free Radicals” with the protagonist being a recently widowed woman in her 60s. This is the one story that I found to give the protagonist not only control of her life, but in a believable fashion. I won’t give any spoilers but will say that “Nita” is a quick thinker and knows how to control herself and come out on top in a life or death situation. Yet, only 1 woman out of 10 in this book actually had the capability to make the decisions necessary for her own life to be made better.
Do you enjoy short stories? Would you finish a book even if you weren’t enjoying it?