kortina.nyc / notes
16 Jan 2020 | by kortina

Munro // Too Much Happiness

Too Much Happiness, Alice Munro.

I was recently watching some interviews with David Foster Wallace and heard him mention Alice Munro as one of his favorite writers. I looked her up, and the title Too Much Happiness caught my eye.

This is a collection of short stories, with maybe the unifying themes being grotesque / odd domestic life and meditation on death. I was surprised how dark the book is. Loved it =)

It contains what may be my favorite short story of all time, Free Radicals, which you can read on The New Yorker website here.

Here is a passage I really enjoyed:

The sun came up and the Mexican colors began to blare at her in their enhanced hideousness, and after a while she got up and washed and slashed her cheeks with rouge and drank coffee that she made strong as mud and put on some of her new clothes. She had bought new flimsy tops and fluttering skirts and earrings decked with rainbow feathers. She went out to teach music in the schools, looking like a Gypsy dancer or a cocktail waitress. She laughed at everything and flirted with everybody. With the man who cooked her breakfast in the diner downstairs and the boy who put gas in her car and the clerk who sold her stamps in the post office. She had some idea that Jon would hear about how pretty she looked, how sexy and happy, how she was simply bowling over all the men. As soon as she went out of the apartment she was on a stage, and Jon was the essential, if secondhand, spectator. Although Jon had never been taken in by showy looks or flirty behavior, had never thought that was what made her attractive. When they travelled they had often made do with a common wardrobe. Heavy socks, jeans, dark shirts, Windbreakers.

Another change.

Even with the youngest or the dullest children she taught, her tone had become caressing, full of mischievous laughter, her encouragement irresistible. She was preparing her pupils for the recital held at the conclusion of the school year. She had not previously been enthusiastic about this evening of public performance — she had felt that it interfered with the progress of those students who had ability, it shoved them into a situation they were not ready for. All that effort and tension could only create false values. But this year she was throwing herself into every aspect of the show. The program, the lighting, the introductions, and of course the performances. This ought to be fun, she proclaimed. Fun for the students, fun for the audience.

Of course she counted on Jon’s being there. Edie’s daughter was one of the performers, so Edie would have to be there. Jon would have to accompany Edie.

Jon and Edie’s first appearance as a couple before the town. Their declaration. They could not avoid it. Such switches as theirs were not unheard of, particularly among the people who lived south of town. But they were not exactly commonplace. The fact that rearrangements were not scandalous didn’t mean they didn’t get attention. There was a necessary period of interest before things settled down and people got used to the new alliance. As they did, and the newly aligned partners would be seen chatting with, or at least saying hello to, the castoffs in the grocery store.

But this was not the role Joyce saw herself playing, watched by Jon and Edie — well, really by Jon — on the evening of the recital.

What did she see? God knows. She did not, in any sane moment, think of impressing Jon so favorably that he would come to his senses when she appeared to take the applause of the audience at the end of the show. She did not think his heart would break for his folly, once he saw her happy and glamorous and in command rather than moping and suicidal. But something not far off from that — something she couldn’t define but couldn’t stop herself hoping for.

It was the best recital ever. Everybody said so. They said there was more verve. More gaiety, yet more intensity. The children costumed in harmony with the music they performed. Their faces made up so they did not seem so scared and sacrificial.

When Joyce came out at the end she wore a long black silk skirt that shone with silver as she moved. Also silver bangles and glitter in her loose hair. Some whistles mingled with the applause.

Jon and Edie were not in the audience.

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