“Shields writes with an almost painfully attuned ear for the nuances of language and the way they attach to feelings and probe the most delicate layers of human consciousness. . . . She reminds us again why literature matters.” — New York Times Book Review
With an Introduction by Margaret Atwood
With the profound maturity and exquisite eye for detail that never failed to capture readers of her critically acclaimed novels, Carol Shields, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Stone Diaries, dazzles with these remarkable stories. Generous, delightful, and acutely observed, this essential collection illuminates the miracles that grace our lives; it will continue to enchant for years to come.
About the Author
Hometown:Victoria, British Columbia, Canada
Date of Birth:June 2, 1935
Date of Death:July 16, 2003
Place of Birth:Oak Park, Illinois
Place of Death:Toronto, Canada
Education:B.A., Hanover College, Indiana; M.A. (English), Ottawa University, 1975
Read an Excerpt
By Carol Shields
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2005 Carol Shields
All right reserved.
Dressing Up for the Carnival
All over town people are putting on their costumes.
Tamara has flung open her closet door; just to see her standing there is to feel a squeeze of the heart. She loves her clothes. She knows her clothes. Her favorite moment of the day is this moment, standing at the closet door, still a little dizzy from her long night of tumbled sleep, biting her lip, thinking hard, moving the busy hangers along the rod, about to make up her mind.
Yes! The yellow cotton skirt with the big patch pockets and the hand detail around the hem. How fortunate to own such a skirt. And the white blouse. What a blouse! Those sleeves, that neckline with its buttoned flap, the fullness in the yoke that reminds her of the morris dancers she and her boyfriend Bruce saw at the Exhibition last year.
Next she adds her new straw belt; perfect. A string of yellow beads. Earrings of course. Her bone sandals. And bare legs, why not?
She never checks the weather before she dresses; her clothes areweather, as powerful in their sunniness as the strong, muzzy early morning light pouring into the narrow street by the bus stop, warming the combed crown of her hair and fueling her with imagination. She taps a sandaled foot lightly on the pavement waiting for the number 4 bus, no longer just Tamara, clerk-receptionist for the Youth Employment Bureau, but a woman in a yellow skirt. A passionate woman dressed in yellow. A Passionate, Vibrant Woman About To Begin I Her Day. Her Life.
Roger, aged thirty, employed by the Gas Board, is coming out of a corner grocer's carrying a mango in his left hand. He went in to buy an apple and came out with this. At the cash register he refused a bag, preferring to carry this thing, this object, in his bare hand. The price was $1.29. He's a little surprised at how heavy it is, a tight seamless leather skin enclosing soft pulp, or so he imagines. He has never bought a mango before, never eaten one, doesn't know what a mango tastes like or how it's prepared. Cooked like a squash? Sliced and sugared like a peach? He has no Intention of eating it, not now anyway, maybe never. Its weight reminds him of a first-class league ball, but larger, longer, smooth skinned, and ripely green. Mango, mango. An elliptical purse, juice-filled, curved for the palm of the human hand, his hand.
He is a man of medium height, burly, divorced, wearing an open-necked shirt, hurrying back to work alter his coffee break. But at this moment he freezes and sees himself freshly: a man carrying a mango in his left hand. Already he's accustomed to it; in fact, it's starting to feel lighter and drier, like a set of castanets ...
Excerpted from Collected Stories by Carol Shields Copyright © 2005 by Carol Shields. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Mrs. Turner Cutting the Grass
Sailors Lost at Sea
The Metaphor Is Dead – Pass It On
A Wood (with Anne Giardini)
Love so Fleeting, Love so Fine
Dolls, Dolls, Dolls, Dolls
Taking the Train
The Orange Fish
The Orange Fish
Today Is the Day
Times of Sickness and Health
Fuel for the Fire
Milk Bread Beer Ice
Dressing Up for the Carnival
Dressing Up for the Carnival
Flatties: Their Various Forms and Uses
Dying for Love
Our Men and Women
Soup du Jour
Death of an Artist
The Next Best Kiss
Reading Group Guide
1. Carol Shields spoke of becoming a writer because there weren’t enough books that examined women’s friendships and women’s inner lives — or, as she put it, “the kind of book I wanted to read but couldn’t find.” In what ways does Shields’s fiction bring the lives of women to the surface, or into our understanding? What sorts of female experiences does she illuminate?
2. In her novels and stories, Shields often experiments with using different voices. The Stone Diaries shifts between first-, second-, and third-person narrative; one section of Larry’s Party is recorded almost entirely in dialogue; Happenstance is a novel in two parts, one narrated by the husband, one by the wife; the stories in Various Miracles come from a wide variety of narrative standpoints. Discuss point-of-view in Shields’s works, and the importance of telling one’s own stories — as characters or in real life. Also, what is the role of the writer in telling other people’s stories for them?
3. Though she’s lauded as a writer who brought the lives of ordinary people to the page and made them extraordinary, Carol Shields took some exception to the idea in one interview: “I have never known what ‘ordinary’ people means! I don’t think I quite believe in the concept…. There’s no one who isn’t complicated, who doesn’t have areas of cowardice or courage, who isn’t incapable of some things and capable of great acts. I think everyone has that capability. Either we’re all ordinary or else none of us is ordinary.” Discuss the role of ordinary life in Shields’s fiction. How do her above views come across in her writing? Is there a respect for the everyday that you don’t see in works by other writers?
4. Shields once commented that she’d often set up the structure of a novel, determining such elements as how many chapters there would be, and how long they’d be, before she even set out to write. “I need that kind of structure,” she explained. “[S]ometimes I change it. But mostly I don’t.… I love structures, and I love making new structures for novels.” Discuss the overall structures of different novels and how they relate to the content. For example, does Larry Weller’s love of garden mazes say anything about the twenty years of his life covered by Larry’s Party? What meaning can be found in the one-word chapter titles of Unless? How does Shields use, or even undermine, the biography format in The Stone Diaries?
5. “I'm concerned about the unknowability of other people,” Shields once said. “That's why I love biography and the idea of the human life told or shown. Of course, this is why I love novels, too. In novels, you get to hear how people are thinking. That’s why I read fiction.” How does Shields expose and often celebrate the inner lives of her characters? Can you find examples of characters who aren’t really known to those around them? How do their relationships suffer, or thrive, or even just survive, in the face of such distance?
6. How does what you know about Carol Shields as a person affect your reading of her books? Are you able to separate the author from her work? Do you feel the need to? What parallels can you draw between her approach to life and those of her characters? For instance, most of her main characters are women at mid-life, and many of her characters are writers or work in other areas of book publishing (translators, editors, etc.).
7. In interviews about Larry’s Party, Carol Shields commented more than once that men were “the ultimate mystery” to her. Discuss the male characters in Shields’s fiction — both those in prominent roles, like Larry Weller in Larry’s Party or Tom Avery in The Republic of Love, and the many husbands and lovers that seem to populate the sidelines of other stories and novels. How successfully does Shields portray the world of men in her work? Are there common characteristics you can trace between books? Are some of her male characters defined by the women they love? Or is it more often the other way around?
8. Many of Carol Shields’s works explore the ways individuals interact with their communities. Some characters are defined by their loneliness, while others struggle with their responsibilities to the people around them, whether it’s their family or a larger group. Discuss the roles of family and community in Shields’s fiction.
9. Carol Shields has always been well-known for her love of language, and its slipperiness. In what ways does her writing call attention to itself as writing? Are there particular stories or novels that you find playful? Or linguistically complex?
10. Author and literary journalist James Atlas, who edited the series for which Shields wrote her Austen biography, once said about Carol Shields, “she is our Jane Austen.” Compare Shields’s fiction to that of Austen — are there common themes or techniques? What other major authors would you compare Shields to, and why? Where does her work fit into our literary canon?