Transcendent Stories from a Close Reader of Human Lives Too Much Happiness By Alice Munro 320 pages; Knopf
Too Much Happiness is the title of Alice Munro's new collection, but the characters in these ten powerful short stories hardly seem to be suffering from an excess of joy. Rather, like the rest of us, they're struggling to cope with the losses and disappointments, the shocks and surprises, the dramatic turning points that leave their ineradicable mark on every life. In "Deep-Holes," an accident during a family picnic prefigures the eccentric beliefs and choices that will forever estrange a troubled son from the mother who cannot forget him. The innocent young heroine of "Wenlock Edge" discovers how drastically the lure of sex can disrupt the most seemingly predictable existence, while in "Fiction" a woman is astonished to find the painful betrayal that ended her marriage told, from a very different perspective, in a young writer's book. In the title story, which centers on the romantic and professional career of an extraordinary historical figure, a 19th-century mathematician named Sophia Kovalevsky, the gifted protagonist observes "events and ideas now taking on a new shape, seen through sheets of clear intelligence, a transforming glass." That clear intelligence, that transforming glass remains the hallmark of Alice Munro's profound and beautiful work.