The Trouble With Happiness a collection of stories, and The Faces, a novel...don’t greatly extend her reputation; neither quite makes the claims on you that the memoirs do ... It’s easy to make these stories sound even bleaker than they are ... Yet as Martin Amis said, 'Achieved art is quite incapable of lowering the spirits.' You sense, in these stories about miscarriages, cheating men, dinner parties gone wrong and frightened children, a writer pulling from a deep well, returning to familiar themes out of a deep compulsion, and that compulsion squeezes us too, in a kind of claustrophobic bliss-out, as if we’ve been inserted into one of Temple Grandin’s deep-pressure hug machines. The stories aren’t microfiction but, translated by Michael Favala Goldman, they’re really short—five or six pages each, somehow an ideal length.
Elements of her early years – working-class lives, fracturing families, adolescent ambition, the lurking shadow of violence, little mercies and larger disappointments – form the kernel of the best stories in The Trouble with Happiness ... At her best Ditlevsen can conjure an entire world in just a few words. The most effective tales here are rooted in unremarkable matters ... Ditlevsen draws on autobiographical experiences to very different ends.
Ditlevsen is attuned to tiny betrayals, the ways in which couples unwittingly fail each other every day ... The stories together trace a desolate arc ... Some of these stories are no more than brisk vignettes ... Occasionally you wish that the characters were a little less transparent to themselves. But in the best of them, Ditlevsen’s candor shines through.
The stories...are compressed and potent ... While the repetition of themes can feel claustrophobic, Ditlevsen is a master at delineating subtle gradations of anguish and imbuing the most common of household objects, like the titular umbrella, with dread. Knitting these two volumes together reveals the author’s progression from a relatively naturalistic writer to a more impressionistic one.
... [a] quiet and devastating collection of vignettes ... The stories are simple; the characters ordinary and immensely human. Their motivations are mysterious and subtle, and Ditlevsen is acutely sensitive to the way normal life can wear at their hearts. Readers will recognize the themes of anger, disappointment, and frustration that recur within the author’s universe. Alongside this discomfort, though, is the opportunity for deep transformation. Already renowned for her memoirs, Ditlevsen is now poised to win acclaim as a master of short fiction.