Saturday, August 06, 2005


Carol Shields's
Collected Stories (2004)

An inventive, perceptive collection of stories about “the arc of the human life”

WHAT we have here is an inventive, perceptive collection of stories by the late Carol Shields. It includes all her stories from her previous three collections, Dressing Up for the Carnival (2000), Various Miracles (1985) and The Orange Fish (1989), and what remains of her last, unfinished novel, “Segue.” Shields is at her usual best in the handling of narrative structure, transforming the mundanity of life into moments of extraordinariness. And she has a way with dialogue, allowing her characters to breathe and unfold at their own natural, unhurried pace. Her poignant bird's-eye observation of human foibles, lunacies, hypocrisies and idiosyncrasies and life's absurdities, ironies and miracles are tinged with wit, humour, warmth and tenderness. She demonstrates control over her narrative and seamlessly employs humour alongside a fascinating exploration of the many interstices of domestic life on the edge of chaos and the subtleties of our emotional landscapes. The introduction by Margaret Atwood is dense with insight.

Let me say it: I am an aging woman of despairing good cheer — just look into the imaginary camera lens and watch me as I make the Sunday morning transaction over the bread, then the flowers, my straw tote from our recent holiday in Jamaica, my smile, my upturned sixty-seven-year-old voice, a voice so crying-out and clad with familiarity that, in fact, I can’t hear it anymore myself, thank God; my ears are blocked. Lately everything to do with my essence has become transparent, neutral: Good morning, Jane Sexton smiles to one and all (such a friendly, down-to-earth woman). “What a perfect fall day.” “What glorious blooms!” “Why Mr. Henning, this bread is still warm! Can this be true?”
Carol Shields, in Collected Stories (2004)

Something has occurred to her — something transparently simple, something she's always known, it seems, but never articulated. Which is that the moment of death occurs while we're still alive. Life marches right up to the wall of that final darkness, one extreme state of being butting against the other. Not even a breath separates them. Not even a blink of the eye. A person can go on and on tuned in to the daily music of food and work and weather and speech right up to the last minute, so that not a single thing gets lost.
Carol Shields, in The Stone Diaries (1994)

SHIELDS Carol [1935-2003] Novelist, short-story writer, poet. Born Carol Ann Warner in Oak Park, Chicago, Illinois, U.S. NOVELS Unless (2002: shortlisted for the 2003 Orange Prize for Fiction and the 2002 Giller Prize for Fiction); Larry's Party (1997: winner of the 1998 Orange Prize for Fiction; shortlisted for the 1997 Giller Prize for Fiction); The Stone Diaries (1993: winner of the 1995 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, the 1994 National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction and the 1993 Governor General's Award for Fiction; shortlisted for the 1993 Booker Prize for Fiction); The Republic of Love (1992); A Celibate Season (with Blanche Howard) (1991); Swann (pub. in Britain in 1990 as Mary Swann) (1987); A Fairly Conventional Woman (1982); Happenstance (1980); The Box Garden (1977); Small Ceremonies (1976: winner of the Canadian Authors Association Award for Fiction) STORIES Collected Stories (2004); Dressing Up for the Carnival (2000); Various Miracles (1985); The Orange Fish (1989) POETRY Coming to Canada (1992); Intersect (1974); Others (1972) PLAYS Anniversary (with David Williamson) (1998); Fashion, Power, Guilt and the Charity of Families (with Catherine Shields) (1995); Thirteen Hands (1993); Departures and Arrivals (1988) BIOGRAPHY Jane Austen (2001: winner of the 2002 Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Nonfiction) CRITICISM Susanna Moodie: Voice and Vision (1977) EDITED Dropped Threads 2: More of What We Aren't Told (with Marjorie Anderson) (2003); Dropped Threads: What We Aren't Told (with Marjorie Anderson) (2001)


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