Too Much Happiness
“We live in time - it holds us and molds us - but I never felt I understood it very well. And I'm not referring to theories about how it bends and doubles back, or may exist elsewhere in parallel versions. No, I mean ordinary, everyday time, which clocks and watches assure us passes regularly: tick-tock, click-clock. Is there anything more plausible than a second hand? And yet it takes only the smallest pleasure or pain to teach us time's malleability. Some emotions speed it up, others slow it d “We live in time - it holds us and molds us - but I never felt I understood it very well. And I'm not referring to theories about how it bends and doubles back, or may exist elsewhere in parallel versions. No, I mean ordinary, everyday time, which clocks and watches assure us passes regularly: tick-tock, click-clock. Is there anything more plausible than a second hand? And yet it takes only the smallest pleasure or pain to teach us time's malleability. Some emotions speed it up, others slow it down; occasionally, it seems to go missing - until the eventual point when it really does go missing, never to return.”
― Julian Barnes, The Sense of an Ending
As I proceeded on my voyage through this intense collection of short stories by Alice Munro, this quote by Julian Barnes kept coming to my mind. For, this collection is essentially about people encountering unprecedented events in their lives. Events, where time and the choices/ judgement made by the characters, play an important role .Time, abounding moments, which possess the power to alter a state of life. Forever. Time, constantly reminding, that we live in a mortal world which is not consistent in its living. It is a world which is ephemeral. A world which enfold every thing, every joy, pain, sorrow, misfortune, lust, desire, ecstasy, every possible feeling experienced by a human being, and, is still constantly altering in the sense in which it makes it supremacy felt.
Alice portrayed this supremacy in the story “Dimensions” profoundly. It is a story where Doree, the female character, in a rage of anger, gets out of the house only to return and find the dead bodies of her three kids. Kids strangled to death by her husband. It wasn’t the first time that they had a fight, but it was the first that she went out of the house in anger. If only she hadn’t at that time, her kids would still be with her. Did she get over it? Not exactly. Did she forgive her husband? May be, she did. Here is the letter which her husband wrote to her from the institution where he was kept:
“People are looking all over for the solution. Their minds are sore (from looking). So many things jostling around and hurting them. You can see in their faces all their bruises and pains. They are troubled. They rush around. They have to shop and go to the Laundromat and get their hair cut and earn a living or pick up their welfare checks. The poor ones have to do that and the rich ones have to look hard for the best ways to spend their money. That is work too. They have to build the best houses with gold faucets for their hot and cold water. And their Audis and magical toothbrushes and all possible contraptions and then burglar alarms to protect against slaughter and all (neigh) neither rich nor poor have any peace in their souls. I was going to write neighbour instead of neither, why was that? I have not got any neighbour here.
Where I am at least people have got beyond a lot of confusion. They know what their possessions are and always will be and they don’t even have to buy or cook their own food. Or choose it. Choices are eliminated. All we that are here can get is what we can
get out of our own minds. At the beginning all in my head was perturbation (Sp?). There was everlasting storm, and I would knock my head against cement in the hope of getting rid of it. Stopping my agony and my life. So punishments were meted. I got hosed down and tied up and drugs introduced in my bloodstream. I am not complaining either, because I had to learn there is no profit in that. Nor is it any different from the so-called real world, in which people drink and carry on and commit crimes to eliminate their thoughts which are painful. And often they get hauled off and incarcerated but it is not long enough for them to come out on the other side. And what is that? It is either total insanity or peace.”
In other stories like 'Fiction', 'Wenlock Edge', 'Deep Holes' and 'Too much Happiness' also, she makes you sit, and contemplate the choices/decisions taken by characters, at different points in their lives. Decisions, which if, were different from those taken, would have altered their living tremendously.
In Wenlock edge, a young girl is disgraced by a Mr. Purvis, who demands her presence sans any clothing for a dinner at his house. The girl acquiesces, and even goes to the extent of reading aloud before the man. It is noteworthy that the man does not even touch her. But some time later, when she is still restless, her mind is occupied by these thoughts “I would never think of those lines again without feeling the prickles of the upholstery on my bare haunches. The sticky prickly shame. A far greater shame it seemed now, than at the time. He had done something to me, after all.”Here the reader is actually left to brood over the morality of human beings. Capriciousness, in some weak moments, may result in hasty and insensitive decisions, thereby changing the disposition in a manner, which may not be retractable.
My favourite story of the collection is “Too much Happiness”, which entails the story of an erudite Mathematics scholar, Sophia, who rises to fame from a humble background. Her journey involving those decisions which help her find her place in the Society. But does she feel happy subsequently? Is she happy after achieving recognition? Is she happy for her decision to remarry after the death of her ex Husband? At one stage she wonders whether her decision to enter into a sort of contract marriage with her ex Husband was right. Alice tries to give a sight into it through these lines:
“Many persons who have not studied mathematics confuse it with arithmetic and consider it a dry and arid science. Actually, however, this science requires great fantasy. She was learning, quite late, what many people around her appeared to have known since childhood that life can be perfectly satisfying without major achievements. It could be brimful of occupations which did not weary you to the bone. Acquiring what you needed for a comfortably furnished life, and then to take on a social and public life of entertainment, would keep you from even being bored or idle, and would make you feel at the end of the day that you had done exactly what pleased everybody. There need be no agonizing.”The story ends with the demise of Sophia brought about by pneumonia. Could it be avoided if she hadn't taken a journey to meet her teacher? And does she die being “Too Happy”? I would let you ponder upon that, since, I would not want go ahead further and spoil your reading of the work.
This collection of short but powerful stories by Alice Munro does lead to emphasize the helplessness of humans when lost into the maze of consequences brought about by their own decisions. And does convey us the necessity to be more judicious when still making ours.
Thanks to a dear friend for introducing me to Munro. Thank yous.penkevich....more