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1. Unless: A Novel (P.S.)
2. Dressing Up for the Carnival
3. Carol Shields's The Stone Diaries:
4. Collected Stories (P.S.)
5. The Box Garden
6. The Stone Diaries: (Penguin Classics
7. Brainjuice: American History,
8. Larry's Party
9. Happenstance: Two Novels in One
10. Jane Austen: A Life (Penguin Lives)
11. Unless : A Novel
12. Almost Late for School: And More
13. Swann
14. Random Illuminations: Conversations
15. BrainJuice: Science, Fresh Squeezed!
16. Unless
17. Animagicals: Colors
18. The Orange Fish
19. Dropped Threads 2: More of What
20. DROPPED THREADS - What We Aren't

1. Unless: A Novel (P.S.)
by Carol Shields
Paperback: 352 Pages (2006-01-01)
list price: US$13.95 -- used & new: US$1.93
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0060874406
Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars
Canada | United Kingdom | Germany | France | Japan
Editorial Review

Product Description

Forty-four-year-old Reta Winters, wife, mother, writer, and translator, is living a happy life until one of her three daughters drops out of university to sit on a downtown street corner silent and cross-legged with a begging bowl in her lap and a placard round her neck that says "Goodness."

The final book from Pulitzer Prize-winner Carol Shields, Unless is a candid and deeply moving novel from one of the twentieth century's most accomplished and beloved authors.

... Read more

Customer Reviews (12)

4-0 out of 5 stars Conjunctions
"A life is full of isolated events, but these events, if they are to form a coherent narrative, require odd pieces of language to cement them together, little chips of grammar (mainly adverbs or prepositions) that are hard to define, since they are abstractions of location or relative position, words like therefore, else, other, also, thereof, theretofore, instead, otherwise, despite, already, and not yet." In this, the opening of the final chapter of her final book, Carol Shields explains the structure of her novel, and the oblique nature of its chapter headings: once, wherein, nevertheless, so... . She explains it too well, actually, for coherent narrative is the one thing that her book lacks, at least until the very end. It is a brilliantly-written collection of fragments: family memories, observations on the art of writing, unsent letters to various male recipients chiding them for their chauvinism, and thoughts about a new novel that the protagonist is writing. But not really a story.

Reta Winters, mid-forties, living some miles from Toronto, mother of three teenage daughters, and blessed with a loving partner, has achieved some renown as the translator of the French poet and Holocaust survivor Danielle Westerman. Striking out on her own, she has published a light romance entitled "My Thyme is Up," and her publishers have contracted a sequel, "Thyme in Bloom." But she is mired in bewilderment and grief. Her eldest daughter, Norah, has dropped out of college, left her boyfriend, and spends her days on a street corner in Toronto with a begging bowl and a hand-lettered sign saying GOODNESS. She will not respond to her siblings or parents, who are at a loss to understandthe cause of her virtual self-immolation. Reta, a quiet but determined feminist, believes it is a reaction to the condition of being deprived of her voice as a woman, hence those unsent letters. But she does not know, and neither her attempts to analyze the problem, or to channel it into her fiction, or to carry on as normally as possible seem to bring any clarity. The ending, when it comes, seems almost simplistic by comparison with the bafflement that had reigned heretofore.

I have discovered that it makes a difference when one reads a particular book and what one has read before it. For example, I have just read THE NOBODIES ALBUM by Carolyn Parkhurst, another book in which a professional writer uses her fiction to help her come to grips with problems in her own family. Carol Shields is by far the better writer (I loved THE STONE DIARIES), and she recognizes the dangers of this approach. As Reta says, "I too am aware of being in incestuous waters, a woman writer who is writing about a woman writer who is writing." But to state the dangers is not necessarily to avoid them, especially since "Thyme in Bloom" seems altogether too slight an undertaking to reflect either Reta's intelligence or her emotional needs. Between the two books, I also read TINKERS by Paul Harding, another superb writer who strings together brilliant observations on the most slender connecting story. Two books of this kind in a row are one too many. The memoirs of a fictional character do not automatically become a novel just because the writer is not the author. A collection of essays, plot-ideas, and letters do not coalesce into novel form just because a fictional event has caused their fragmentation in the first place. Individual sections of this book are magnificent, but they need more than prepositions to hold them together; they demand conjunctions.

4-0 out of 5 stars Enchanting
Perhaps enjoyment of this book depends upon whether one is male or female.I found this to be engaging with themes I've rarely seen written about in this manner.Would recommended to anyone, well, female anyones.

3-0 out of 5 stars Not impressed
I really wanted to like this book, but I could never really get into it.

I don't believe that the characters were well developed.I didn't have any emotional connections to Reta, Tom, or even her kids.

I will try other books of the author, but to me, this book did not compell me to keep reading.

3-0 out of 5 stars Ponderous
This book is the story of a mother's despair when she discovers her daughter has chosen to leave her comfortable, suburban existence and live on the street. Reta Winters is devastated to discover that her daughter Norah is spending her days on a Toronto street corner holding a sign that says "goodness." Her nights are spent in a shelter. Unless enters the interior world of a mother. We learn all of Reta's thoughts; what we learn very little of is Norah herself. Norah is arguably the most interesting character in the book. Instead we get Reta, reminiscing and thinking about all of the elements of her life, her marriage, and her children. Reta has spent her professional life translating the works of French feminist philosopher Danielle Westerman, and writing a chick lit novel of her own. We hear quite a bit about both the novel (which has a sequel in progress) and Westerman. This is far too much for a fictional philosopher whose contribution is never all that well explained, and novels are not especially interesting. Ultimately, Shields never really made me care about any of the characters except Norah, of whom I consistently wanted to hear more. This is one of those book where I suspect there are deeper things going on with the writing, but I simply couldn't engage enough to really investigate them.

1-0 out of 5 stars UNLESS you can persuade me to the contrary...
You will find this book really boring and rambling. I can't figure out what the other reviewers rave about.UNLESS "gets to the point" (you are asking for it to get to ANY POINT throughout the book) near the very end of the book. "It" all comes together at that point.This is not a moving or profound read, in my opinion. A much better book is "The Glass Castle." ... Read more

2. Dressing Up for the Carnival
by Carol Shields
Paperback: 224 Pages (2001-05-01)
list price: US$15.00 -- used & new: US$0.94
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0141001917
Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars
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Editorial Review

Product Description
In Dressing Up for the Carnival, Carol Shields distills her characteristic wisdom, elegance, and insouciant humor in twenty-two luminous stories. A wealth of surprises and contrasts, this collection ranges from the lyricism of "Weather," in which a couple's life is thrown into chaos when the National Association of Meteorologists goes on strike, to the swampy sexuality of "Eros," in which a room in a Parisian hotel on the verge of ruin is the catalyst for passion, to the brave confidence of "A Scarf"-new for this collection-which chronicles the realities of a fledging author's book tour. Playful, graceful, acutely observed, and generous of spirit, these stories will delight her devoted fans and win her new converts as well.Amazon.com Review
In her third collection of short fiction, Dressing Up for the Carnival, Carol Shields employs two tales about clothing as structural bookends. The title story, which functions as her opening salvo, begins with a highly suggestive sentence: "All over town people are putting on their costumes." In some cases, of course, this is a literal description. Tamara, for example, dons a yellow cotton skirt without checking the weather, for "her clothes are the weather, as powerful in their sunniness as the strong, muzzy early morning light." But clearly Shields is also making a statement about identity--about the mix-and-match process of deciding who we are. Thus we get the more discreet high jinks of

X, an anonymous middle-aged citizen who, sometimes, in the privacy of his own bedroom, in the embrace of happiness, waltzes about in his wife's lace-trimmed nightgown.... He lifts the blind an inch and sees the sun setting boldly behind his pear tree, its mingled coarseness and refinement giving an air of confusion.
The final story, "Dressing Down," details the friction between a hardcore nudist and his reluctant wife, and suggests very nearly the opposite moral: we are defined by the garments we remove. Elsewhere, Shields explores the questions of identity and intimacy with less of a sartorial accent. "Invention" features another fractured marriage, this one done in by the wife's invention of a steering-wheel muff ("Money began to trickle in, then became rivers of money, especially when she introduced her famous faux-leopard muff, which became the signature for all that was chic, young, adventurous, and daring"). In "Eros," surely among the most elegant stories in this elegant collection, sex is both transcendent and suffocating, an entrance into the self and every human being's cross to bear. Dressing Up for the Carnival is a witty performance in which Shields occasionally thumbs her nose at the very notion of the traditional short story (much as she tinkered with novelistic protocol in The Stone Diaries). But make no mistake: she's a serious artist, with her eye fixed firmly on the naked (or at least half-undressed) truth. --Bob Brandeis ... Read more

Customer Reviews (8)

5-0 out of 5 stars A True Example of Writing as Art
Carol Shields can take an ordinary word and polish it into a shining gemstone. Finely-tuned phrases are scattered plentifully throughout each chapter of _Dressing Up for the Carnival_, straddling the gap between poetry and fiction. This collection of stories is so spare, it almost feels empty at first. But you find Shields has emptied her work of distractions and needless explanations so you can more clearly see . Her focus on minute details is selective and purposeful. She reveals deep insights on the human condition through small observations-ones only a keen observer could see, and only a master writer like Shields could translate into words. If you want to be entertained, this book may not be for you. If you want to think deeply and be stirred to a higher level of emotion, pick up this book. You'll find yourself setting it down after every story so you can absorb each word.

3-0 out of 5 stars A paragon of mediocrity
I recently finished reading Carol Shields' short story collection, Dressing Up for the Carnival. I'm a big fan of Carol Shields, having enjoyed Larry's Party, The Stone Diaries, even adding Swann to my wicked Top Five list - but this one didn't hit the spot.

Although the stories were charming and well-written, they weren't engrossing. I need to be EN-GROSSED! Instead I felt like I was wading through the bad stuff (I use the term "bad" for effect only) to get to the good. Some real gems here, but not a stellar collection.

Somewhat recommended - that is, to fans, and not just the casual passerby.

4-0 out of 5 stars stories that stretch how we see the world
It's hard to describe the effect of these stories -- perhaps mindbending would be as close as you can get.Who else would devote whole stories to keys, or a meteorologist strike or the founder of a nudist camp?My only small complaint is that at times some of the stories, especially those taking place in the academic realm, are almost too clever for their own good.The collection as a whole though is strong and quite imaginative and profound.Shields is certainly an interesting writer -- there is nary a dull moment and some quite enlightening ones.

4-0 out of 5 stars Hooked by Carol Shields
Carol Shields hooked me in with Stone Diaries and I have subsequently enjoyed Happenstance, Larry's Party and a Celibate Season.I have just completed Dressing Up for the Carnival and am yet again amazed by Carol's ability to take the simplest things and see into them and beyond their common use. The story Mirrors is a typical example - we take them so much for granted and yet we do not look at them but "into them".Her language is rich, descriptive, insightful and makes me want to hear her voice.I love the glimpses she gives into married lives and the various swings and roundabouts of relationships, the distances between people and the tiny, meaningful, tender moments - Windows is a typical example. I am delighted to discover that I have many more of her books to enjoy and am now about to continue my research on Carol with the help of this site.

3-0 out of 5 stars I Enjoy Her Complete Novels Much More
Carol Shields is an amazingly talented author and her books amaze me.Iam a huge fan of "The Stone Diaries" and I personally think it'sone of the best novels of our time, but I must confess that I don't enjoyher work in short stories.I think that her talent is better suited fornovels and I certainly think she deserves a world of praise for her books. But, again I didn't really like this one as much.I found it fragmentedand hard to follow.It was lackluster and I was really hoping for more. Sadly, I can't rave about this book as much I would have liked. ... Read more

3. Carol Shields's The Stone Diaries: A Reader's Guide (Continuum Contemporaries)
by Abby H. P. Werlock
Paperback: 96 Pages (2001-09-01)
list price: US$9.95 -- used & new: US$4.63
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0826452493
Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars
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Editorial Review

Product Description
This is part of a new series of guides to contemporary novels. The aim of the series is to give readers accessible and informative introductions to some of the most popular, most acclaimed and most influential novels of recent years - from 'The Remains of the Day' to 'White Teeth'. A team of contemporary fiction scholars from both sides of the Atlantic has been assembled to provide a thorough and readable analysis of each of the novels in question. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (4)

5-0 out of 5 stars Simply Beautiful
The Stone Diaries is my favorite book, and I've read a lot of books.It's difficult to put this book into words or to clearly convey the emotion it evokes. It is the story of Daisy, a quite ordinary woman, and the author, who I'm sorry to say recently passed away, shows us how it is exactly that ordinariness that makes every human being so precious. She shows us that people have common threads that unite us. She also shows us that we ordinary folk still have qualities and experiences unique to us. As for Carol Shield's writing: Extraordinary.

5-0 out of 5 stars a reader from Seattle, Washington
This book came out at just the right time! My book group is reading Pulitzer Prize winning novels, and we're scheduled to read The Stone Diaries next week. Imagine my delight when I found Werlock's Reader's Guide in one of our local bookstores....and discovered that she has actually asked Carol Shields some of the questions that our group would like to ask her! This book is filled with great background information, useful interpretation, and thought-provoking questions. If all the books in the series are this good, I'll buy them all!

5-0 out of 5 stars Book Club Choice!
Even though my Chicago-based book club had already read Carol Shields's The Stone Diaries, we all went out and bought Abby Werlock's guide to our favorite novel.What a help this book has been to us!When we first discussed the novel, we had all sorts of questions, especially about whether Daisy or someone else was speaking at any given time.Well, Werlock's explanation solves it all!And even though she provides many answers to common questions, she asks questions herself, providing even more issues to delve into in this very complex and satisfying book.I recommend it to all devotees of Carol Shields.

5-0 out of 5 stars Background for Carol Shields's best book!
As a long-time fan of everything by Carol Shields, I was glad to see the United States starting to pay more attention to this Canadian writer, especially for The Stone Diaries, in my opinion her best book. The background information that Abby Werlock provides is incredibly helpful (for instance, Shields is not responsible for the title!).Ms. Werlock's interview with Shields is a plus, especially because she wisely avoids the q and a format and instead spreads Shields's comments throughout the book. I love The Stone Diaries, but now, after reading Werlock's book, I understand it even better! ... Read more

4. Collected Stories (P.S.)
by Carol Shields
Paperback: 632 Pages (2005-12-01)
list price: US$16.95 -- used & new: US$5.98
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0060762047
Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars
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Editorial Review

Product Description

With the profound maturity and exquisite eye for detail that never failed to capture readers of her prize-winning novels, Carol Shields 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.Amazon.com Review
Carol Shields's collection of short stories is the definitive anthology of this genre of her work. It contains all previously published stories and one entirely new: "Segue," her last work. She died of cancer in July of 2003, after fighting the good fight, for the second time. The book is introduced by Margaret Atwood, another widely read Canadian author, who was a longtime friend and admirer of Shields.

The stories are truly remarkable, combining great humor with poignant observation--an exploration of the idiosyncracies of our friends, lovers, spouses, and children, and the gift of being a true storyteller. She glories in writing about the mundane: grocery shopping, ballet lessons, mowing the lawn; and in the quirky, as in a young boy's grandfather who becomes a "naturist," a grandmother who was North America's Turkey Queen in Ramona, California, and wore a dress made completely of turkey feathers. Her writing is full of wonder and serendipity: "Roger, aged thirty, employed by the Gas Board, is coming out of a corner grocers carrying a mango in his left hand. He went in to buy an apple and came out with this." Now, what will turn out to be important here:Roger's age, his employment, why the mango instead of the apple, and, is he left-handed? Carol Shields will sort it all out for the reader, in the most enjoyable way possible. While her stories are accessible, they are never trivial. Each one is finely crafted, illuminating something about a person, a relationship, an event.

In "Segue," Max and Jane begin their Sunday morning buying bread and flowers; he, an accomplished novelist, she, a writer of sonnets. They proceed to luncheon at their daughter's house, return home to conversation, reading, roast chicken, and evening reverie. Jane reflects upon her aging body: "My aging is me too, as well as the subject of my current sonnet. Only two years ago the idea of aging belonged to the whole world. It was background. I hadn't been touched by it then. Now I am." Touched by age and encroaching illness, Carol Shields wrote one last marvelous story.

In her foreword, Margaret Atwood, who visited Shields only two months before she died, writes: "We did not speak of her illness. She preferred to be treated as a person who was living, not one who was dying." This attitude of mind is reflected in the fabric of all her work, in its clarity, its appreciation of the absurd, and in her understanding of the human condition. --Valerie Ryan ... Read more

Customer Reviews (4)

4-0 out of 5 stars Beautiful and crisp prose from a much-missed author
Carol Shields' strength lies in her ability to craft precise descriptions of moments... Her most interesting stories come from the first 2 vollumes, while the last collection felt more experimental and to me, somewhat less enjoyable. But her prose is always a pleasure to savour...

5-0 out of 5 stars Languid, Seductive, Insightful
This is a wonderful collection. Each reflective,gentle storypulls you forward with poetic, awe-inspiring detail. A joy at every level.

5-0 out of 5 stars Beautiful stories from a gifted late writer...
Carol Shields died of Breast Cancer three years ago, a sad loss of a gifted, wonderful Canadian writer.Collected Stories features several of the most wonderful stories I have read.Her quirky humor comes to life in this wonderful collection.Though the stories may come across as incredibly mundane because it deals with every day, ordinary people, said stories give a wonderful portrayal of characters you can definitely relate to.My favorite stories are "Invitations," "Taking the Train," "Pardon," "Segue," "Fuel for the Fire," and "Our Men and Women."This is a large collection of previously released stories and her last effort before she passed away called "Segue."This is a beautiful collection you won't want to miss.I read The Stone Diaries when it first came out eleven years ago and my impression now is the same one I had when I read the aforementioned novel: Carol Shields was a master storyteller.

5-0 out of 5 stars A final bouquet
From a too-early departed Canadian treasure.Shields could turn a phrase, or take her reader from a wink of an eye to a catch in the throat, like no one else.She was a trickster of a storyteller - start you off slow, comfortable and easy - then wham! Off you'd go into a character, or life, that delights and surprises.

The first two lines of "Pardon":
On Friday afternoon Milly stopped at Ernie's Cards 'n' Things to buy a mea culpa card for her father-in-law, whom she had apparently insulted.
"Sorry," Ernie's wife said in her testy way."We're all out."

I love the off-handed humor and grace of the phrase "apparently insulted".This last collection is a departing gift, and should be read accordingly. Each page turned slowly, each paragraph unwrapped and savored, each word read as though it was the last - "part of the bliss they would one day gladly surrender."
... Read more

5. The Box Garden
by Carol Shields
Paperback: 224 Pages (1996-01-01)
list price: US$14.00 -- used & new: US$1.69
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0140251367
Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars
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Editorial Review

Product Description
Charleen, a divorced woman attending her widowed mother's second wedding, makes startling discoveries about other family members attending the reunion and achieves a new understanding of herself and her own life. Reprint. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (7)

5-0 out of 5 stars Fear can show the way toward courage and healing
Why go to a psychoanalyst when you can simple spend a pleasant evening with "The Box Garden" to the same effect?This is a home-coming story:all the ghosts of the past are met by an apparently weak fearful character, who finds she can meet each challenge, accept others, make confident choices and appreciate herself.

No, I have no desire for Charleen to get on Prozac quick! Or to smack her on the side of the head, as one reviewer here said. A shocking statement, indicating that a society can go backwards rather than forwards.

The low-tech 70's is kind-of fun to revisit.Now we have even more opportunities to come full circle with our relationships and our past.But do we? Charleen is solidly in the ordinary, dull, broken, world most of us live in daily. Yet at the same time she keeps seeing, and making choices, that place her in the transcendent world that heals and honors life.And she makes the experience seem almost easy, like watching a movie.

How did Shields make all these characters seem three-dimensional, real, not stereotypes?Lots of dialog? The narrator's sensitive awareness?Even her son Seth, who is always good, easy-going, seemed real to me: a lot of kids just adapt to the adults around them until they're adults.

And what about the broken-down, broken-apart people in our lives? The Watsons and the Gretas?The people who have dumped us, or whom we try to dump?Shield handles these people, who no doubt are all around all of us, with grace and hope.

I won't reveal too much about Brother Andrew.But I did feel the relationship with this character was not resolved.The novel could have expanded on Charleen's image of Brother Andrew versus reality.What was she looking for in Brother Andrew and how did she integrate that into herself?I wanted to hear more.

A beautiful and fun story that also points the way to how to live a better life.The trip across Canada was just another plus.

3-0 out of 5 stars Not her best work
This is a very simple read and not very memorable.I found the kidnapping portion of the book to be a bit melodramatic and not fit in to the rest of the story.Good for a quick read during the holidays, but certainly nothing compared to The Stone Diaries.

4-0 out of 5 stars Early "chick lit"
I enjoyed the book. I think it has a "mature chick lit" theme. I do find the comments in the reviews, about how now Charleen would be given Prozac and sent on her way, both insulting and untrue. It is insulting from the standpoint that most competent doctors do not believe medication treats social issues and existential angst. I find it untrue in that Charleen does not appear depressed or anxious; she seems to be redefining herself after her life has been turned upside down, and it takes going back to where she started to find out how far she has come, and how strong and independent she is now. The twists and turns weren't hard to figure out, but didn't seem forced or contrived. I enjoyed the novel. It isn't ritzy or racy, but a wonderful story of growth and acceptance.

5-0 out of 5 stars A Shields Hero Takes a Trip & Discovers Life is OK
Carol Shields's second novel, The Box Garden, quickly followed her first, Small Ceremonies, and features some of the same characters. But the books are not mirror images. They are both entertaining, insightful, humanistic--Shields cares deeply about her afflicted characters. Judith Gill, biographer, mother of two and happily married to Martin, narrated Small Ceremonies; younger sister and divorced poet Charlene Forrest tends The Box Garden.It is not surprising that two sisters can see the world so differently, but that Shields can make Judith and Charlene's disparate views of the same characters so authentic.Charlene is the quirkier.Within a few pages, she confesses a lack of courage. She is a published poet, at home with language, if not the world.Charlene is raising a son who is content with what the world and his mother offer. How did this happen, she muses? Charlene travels east from Vancouver to Toronto for her mother's wedding with her boyfriend, Eugene.The trip proves full of challenges and fulfillment, new friends and family reconnected, including Judith's clan. Charlene experiences a series of small epiphanies through these encounters.She allows herself escape from her small garden to a larger world, full of the unknown, but with hints of acceptance of life as it is. Shields's language is as rich as the assembled characters, which inlcude the mother of all negative mothers, defrocked priests and spiritual charlatans.Bring a pen and paper along for the read to jot down Shield's matchless discriptions of everyday life and families for future use.

5-0 out of 5 stars Great introduction to Carol Shields
Box Garden was a re-read for me, and I think I enjoyed it more the second time.Its protagonist, Charleen Forrest, is the sister of the suburban Mom and biographer/novelist who is the protagonist of two other Shields novels.Shields herself wasa biographer/novelist and suburban mom. Shields is in top form in the Box Garden, piling on beautiful, original, totally apt metaphors, while capturing family scenes with economy and humor.Not only the biographer, but her husband and children show up in the Box Garden, and it would be a great first read for the lucky individual who is new to Carol Shields.In fact, I found the biographer's husband more alive in the Box Garden than in the other Shield's novels.Charleen is a woman with a teenage son who has yet torecover from her divorce of many years, a divorce which was not bitter, but entailed a great sense of loss and disillusionment. Charleen's mother, a totally repressed individual, is a great character, as well as the mother's new fiancee. The plot has something of a bizarre, but credibletwist.My only complaint:Charleen's son is a little too well adjusted. ... Read more

6. The Stone Diaries: (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition)
by Carol Shields
Paperback: 304 Pages (2008-09-30)
list price: US$16.00 -- used & new: US$6.88
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0143105507
Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Canada | United Kingdom | Germany | France | Japan
Editorial Review

Product Description
In celebration of the fifteenth anniversary of its original publication, Carol Shields’s Pulitzer Prize–winning novel is now available in a Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition

ONE OF THE MOST successful and acclaimed novels of our time, this fictionalized autobiography of Daisy Goodwill Flett is a subtle but affecting portrait of an everywoman reflecting on an unconventional life. What transforms this seemingly ordinary tale is the richness of Daisy’s vividly described inner life—from her earliest memories of her adoptive mother to her awareness of impending death.Amazon.com Review
This fictionalized autobiography of Daisy Goodwill Flett, captured inDaisy's vivacious yet reflective voice, has been winning over readers sinceits publication in 1995, when it won the Pulitzer Prize. After a youth markedby sudden death and loss, Daisy escapes into conventionality as amiddle-class wife and mother. Years later she becomes a successful gardencolumnist and experiences the kind of awakening that thousands of hercontemporaries in mid-century yearned for but missed in alcoholism, maritalinfidelity and bridge clubs. The events of Daisy's life, however, are lesscompelling than her rich, vividly described inner life--from her memories ofher adoptive mother to her awareness of impending death. Shields' sensuousprose and her deft characterizations make this, her sixth novel, her mostsuccessful yet. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (188)

5-0 out of 5 stars Like Life
Readers react to this book across the spectrum; a consensus is elusive!
Count me in the camp who loved it and believe its Pulitzer Prize well-deserved.

Carol Shields was a gifted novelist who crafted art out of the most mundane of plots, and made this faux-biographical ordinary life a page-turner. The novel plays with storytelling style, voice, narrative form, and tone, arranged in themes that skip across time in Daisy Stone Goodwill's long and varied life.

In The Stone Diaries, Shields creates characters as dimensional and idiosyncratic as real people, illuminates the inner life of the protagonist through all life stages, explores the tenuous balance of forming and maintaining relationships in a world where we are each ultimately unknowable to one another, and examines how we navigate the events of our life with what little power and free will we have while accepting (with a mixture of fury and resignation) the twists and turns of circumstance that are thrust upon us.

The novel is a study of the Big Picture and innerspace, a reflection on our small moment in time, the acuteness of consciousness, the process of aging, and the ultimate realization that we are all special, unique mediocrities.

4-0 out of 5 stars faux bio
Daisy Goodwill's story is that of a conventional life, marked by some rather unusual events.The narration vacillates between first- and third-person, but the voice is mainly Daisy's, beginning with her obese mother's death in bearing Daisy in 1905 in rural Manitoba.Daisy's stonecutter father hands the infant off to a neighbor woman, Clarentine Flett, who leaves her husband to live with her grown son Barker, a botany professor.When Mrs. Flett dies suddenly, Barker is left in somewhat of a pickle.Since it would be unseemly for him to remain the guardian of a 12-year-old girl, Daisy's father Cuyler comes to collect her on his way to a better job in Bloomington, Indiana.His success there enables Daisy to marry a rich ne'er-do-well, but, alas, he jumps/falls from their hotel window during the honeymoon without ever consummating the marriage.(Homosexuality is assumed but never mentioned.)Daisy is now somewhat of a pariah as far as her marital prospects and decides to make a long trip, partly precipitated by her father's remarrying.The most anticipated stop in her journey is a visit to "Uncle" Barker, at least 20 years her senior, with whom she has kept a steady, though uninformative, correspondence.The book covers Daisy's entire life and is sort of a faux biography, complete with family tree and photos, the more recent of which are actually the author's children.I found these touches to be sort of playful on the author's part.As Daisy later goes on sort of a genealogical quest, I was bewildered that she never manifests any curiosity about her mother.As with real lives, some secrets are revealed along the way, and some remain buried when the one who harbors them dies.

4-0 out of 5 stars The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields
The Stone Diaries was a good read. It provokes some reflective thinking on relationships and the meaning of life.Sometimes it makes one think that life is like a series of boxes. We close one box of our lives and open an entirerly new one and continue on until the last box. Some boxes contain happiness and some do not.Did we get a chance to choose that box?How was it delegated to us with either misery or delight? Could we have avoided the painful box and chosen another if we had been more diligent in our actions and choices? From her birth to her death, Daisy Goodwell struggled to understand her journey through life.Some of us think we exert some control but I doubt if Daisy felt she had any control and she merely accepted her fate.

3-0 out of 5 stars A Writer New to Me
It seems strange to be discovering a Pulitzer Prizewinning writer, born five years before me, only seven years after her death.But I'm glad I did.Daisy Goodwill's birth and childhood, in a quarry-town in western Canada, are respectively singular and meager.A fatal accident on her honeymoon saves her from what promises to be a disasterous first marriage, while her second marriage is both fated and fortunate.Once comfortably lodged in the upper middle class, she has a not-too-eventful midlife, which Shields's varied sylistic approaches keep consistently interesting.Daisy's last years, however, are both typical and grim.
I can't help surmising that Daisy bears some relationship to Shields's own mother, but in any case after a rocky start she lives a life not uncommon for middle class women born at the beginning of the 20th century, when women worked only if they had to.Daisy's most fulfilling decade was when she wrote a weekly garden column for the Bloomington, Indiana newspaper under the name of "Mrs. Green Thumb."The recogniton she received for her expertise as a gardener gave her a sense of self-worth that otherwise eluded her.She was from hard-working stock, and needed meaningful work to feel fulfilled.
The author has set herself the task of showing how extraordinary an "ordinary" woman of her mother's generation could be, but she does not abandon her heroine at some suitable climax, but continues onward to old age and death, which are a distinct anti-climax, as Daisy subsides in the nursing home into memories and regrets about missed opportunities and roads not taken.One lesson I take from this ending is how much better off Shields's generation of women is in comparison to her mother's.Like Shields herself, Daisy's oldest child, Alice, is a successful academic and writer,though not necessarily any happier than her mother.
I wish I could find and include the summary of my own mother's life that I wrote at the time of her death at 101 years of age.She was born two years before Daisy, but into more fortunate circumstances as the daughter of a lawyer, and she earned a Master's degree at MIT, worked all her life as a teacher, public health official, and once again an elementary school teacher, the work she excelled at and loved the best.She married a man she considered brilliant and handsome, put him through college and graduate school, had one child (she wanted two) lived abroad several times in Europe and Mexico, was a serious amateur painter a dozen of whose canvasses are still hanging in the assisted living establishment to which she moved from her apartment at the age of ninty-three, and was still happy to be alive at 101, going for the longevity record.
She had more fulfillment in her life than Daisy Goodwill, but she had a good head-start, and was considerably more energetic and self-reliant.So much depends on the start we get in life - not only the externals of sufficient income and a solid family upbringing, but also the inner story of who loves us and who we love, and how these loves are expressed.Given the dire circumstances into which Daisy was born, she found people to love and care for her, a husband who adored her, three healthy children, material security in her adult life, and some, if not enough, fulfilling work.She deserved a better memorial than her distracted children, pre-occupied with their own troubles, were able to provide.Perhaps Shields already knew that she was fighting cancer when she wrote this bitter ending.I think Daisy - or anyone - deserves better.But that may be exactly the author's point.

1-0 out of 5 stars Papa Was a Rolling Stone:A Review of The Stone Diaries
Modern 20th-century fiction hosts an array of unforgettable characters.The Stone Diaries cannot be included in the list, unfortunately.The novel never succeeds in infusing any life into the protagonist, Daily Goodwill Flett, a woman with an unlucky birth and whose final unspoken words are:"I am not in peace." This novel did not merit the Pulitzer prize for literature in 1995. Sadly, it lacks mojo. I imagine that the judges were either desperate for a winner that year or half-asleep when they cast their votes after a heavy, carbohydrate-laden lunch.

Stone imagery is tritely overworked throughout the narrative. Daisy's portrait, in fact, resembles that of a small gray stone of no particular distinction -- the type of stone one might throw into a still pond just to see the ripples, if nothing else.Is she notable or memorable in any way?She is about as interesting as a frozen Canadian prairie.And yet the author, Carol Shields, devoted 269 fruitless pages in an attempt to convince herself that Daisy's life was worth telling, and she leaves no stone unturned. This sad narrative begins with the moment Daisy's grossly obese and ignorant mother, Mercy Stone (hint, hint - heavy) Goodwill, discovers that she is in the midst of childbirth (!) while making a Malvern pudding in a hot Manitoba kitchen.(The book even needs a long introduction by Penelope Lively --whoever she is -- who feels obliged to inform the reader that there is significance in the references to hot kitchens interspersed throughout the story.I have yet to find anything symbolic about a hot kitchen other than the old adage: "If you can't take the heat, get out of the kitchen.") And Mercy Stone Goodwill gets out of the kitchen and out of the story mercifully and melodramatically. She dies in childbirth as a result of eclampsia, a serious disorder that results in convulsions and coma; yet, prior to her sudden death, she displays no pathological symptoms other than obesity, a desire to keep a neat house, and a propensity for calorie-laden pastries.After making a bloody mess of things, she ruins her husband's dinner, the Malvern pudding, and leaves Daisy motherless.

For the next 28 pages, the reader must tread through Daisy's uneventful and uninteresting childhood.The infant is taken under the wings of a benevolent neighbor, Clarentine Flett, who has witnessed the disturbing birth and who shortly afterwards leaves her husband because he refuses to give her money for a tooth extraction (a reason that should have been included in Paul Simon's old song, "Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover".Clarentine's farewell note is imaginative: "Good-bye".) Clarentine flees with the child to Winnipeg to live with her boring botanist professor son, Barker Flett, whose only thrill in life is his collection of lady-slippers.Barker discovers his sap rising in a Nabokovian way once Daisy reaches the tender age of eleven.Daisy, however, is definitely no Lolita.

But hold tight.More boredom is yet to come.The reader must also wade through Daisy's unfortunate first marriage to a drunken spouse who falls out of a window on their honeymoon even before the marriage is consummated, leaving Daisy in a pickle.So she and Barker Flett hitch up in a quasi-incestuous snicker of a way and then have a family of two girls and one boy.At this point, if the reader is old enough, he or she may recall the 50s sitcoms, "Leave It to Beaver", and "Father Knows Best" in which the fictional TV mothers spent a lot of time in a "hot kitchen" cooking up clever and creative meals, like hamburgers and hotdogs.Daisy, however, goes for jellied veal (yum!) and wonders why her husband and children do not ask for seconds.Maybe it's because Barker is still obsessed with his lady-slippers? (Penelope, how symbolic is that?) Is it because the oldest anglophile daughter, Alice, is busy thinking up British-sharp insults to hurl (like stones?) at every Canadian member of the family?And the son -- maybe he's intent on picking at his pimples and has lost his appetite because the jellied veal reminds him that he may undesirable, too?

This leads the reader into nine long, long years of painfully detailed botanical descriptions of flowers and gardens when Daisy takes on a local newspaper columnist role as "Mrs. Green Thumb".And at this point, we, the readers, know that Daisy has at last found her forte, her voice, her function.Perhaps it's because her boring husband, Barker, has bitten the dust, which affords Daisy an opportunity to get her mojo on with lyrical floral descriptions.She wins the admiration and respect of her readers, but OMG, are we ever in for it when a scoundrel at the newspaper takes over her job, leaving her helplessly unemployed.Daisy sinks into the darkest and deepest of menopausal depressions, becoming comatose, unresponsive to stimuli, and desperately in need of electro-shock therapy, which was, after all, popular in her day.In fact, electro-shock therapy may have been a more creative story line for Carol Shields to have followed than the one she selected. I can easily envision Daisy in the role of Olivia DeHavilland in the 40s flick, "Snakepit", in which she is shocked out of her depression, sings a moving "Going Home" song (to the tune of Dvorjak's New World Symphony), and reinvents herself as a much-needed new character in a different plot and different novel.

Nevertheless, we must follow Daisy tirelessly in her dotage and decline.She sells the house in Winnipeg (who wouldn't?) and moves to sunny Florida.In this light-drenched backdrop, she gets her groove on with plastic purses, bridge games, and predictable bluish perms. She even does a mean thing (Imagine that, Daisy being mean) on a fake plant in the foyer of her condo building.Then -- yes before you know it, Daisy is an invalid.Her physical infirmities are played upon for another good 20 - 30 pages.Finally, thank God, Daisy passes on. Shields, never one to give up a character quickly, tosses like a frisbee random tidbits and trinkets that have comprised Daisy's insignificant, unloving, stone cold life, including recipes and insipid conversational exchanges among family members.These conversations reveal underlying relief that the uncomplaining millstone around their necks is finally gone (sigh). One of her daughter remarks:"She let life happen to her."Fine.But passive characters do not pique the average reader's interest.

Daisy is one character in modern fiction that I was actually HAPPY to see die.There is not even a flicker of anything beyond the commonplace and ordinary in her life.God knows, if she had only burned her bra in the 60s or stayed stoned for a brief historical moment in the 70s, we could have appreciated the fact that she was at least breaking out of a predictable mold in which she conforms to every societal norm in the book.Must 269 pages be devoted to such a bland personality?Please, Carol Shields.I know you're dead, too, but was this novel a satire?????? If not, are we really to take all this overwritten drivel seriously?
... Read more

7. Brainjuice: American History, Fresh Squeezed!
by Carol Diggory Shields
Paperback: 80 Pages (2005-09-29)
list price: US$7.95 -- used & new: US$5.12
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 1593541201
Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars
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History homework getting you down? Too much to learn? Names? Dates? Important events? Hang in there! Help is on the way! Adroitly reducing reams of boring data about our nation's past to a generous selection of over-the-top verses, Carol Diggory Shields presents our history with incisive hilarity. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (2)

5-0 out of 5 stars Emerging Questions!
My 10 year old daughter has an interest in the history of the American Revolution. As a result, I purchased BRAIN JUICE AMERICAN HISTORY FRESH SQUEEZED. To pass the time on a plane ride, I started reading some of the poems to her. After I stopped, she started asking questions like, "Who is FDR?""What do CCC and WPA stand for?"She wanted to know more about the Great Depression and how the stock market works.BRAIN JUICE opened the flood gates of questions and learning under the guise of playtime.

I suspect that BRAIN JUICE would be a wonderful tool for history teachers. The poems will get students to ask questions and learn about history in a painless manner.I hope the Shields will do the same thing for science.

5-0 out of 5 stars Excellent
My children (9 & 11) and I love this book!You'll be amazed at what you can learn from this creative poetry.Reading this book will probably be the most fun you ever have learning about people and events in American History.It's pretty short, so you'll likely finish the entire book in one sitting, but it's SO CUTE!My daughter took this book to school to share with her class.I'm hoping to find more poetry of this sort from Carol Diggory Shields.You'll love it! ... Read more

8. Larry's Party
by Carol Shields
Paperback: 339 Pages (1998-09-01)
list price: US$15.00 -- used & new: US$0.01
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0140266771
Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars
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Editorial Review

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The San Diego Tribune called The Stone Diaries a "universal study of what makes women tick." With Larry's Party Carol Shields has done the same for men. Larry Weller, born in 1950, is an ordinary guy made extraordinary by his creator's perception, irony, and tenderness. Larry's Party gives us, as it were, a CAT scan of his life, in episodes between 1977 and 1997, that seamlessly flash backward and forward. We follow this young floral designer through two marriages and divorces, and his interactions with his parents, friends, and a son. Throughout, we witness his deepening passion for garden mazes--so like life, with their teasing treachery and promise of reward. Among all the paradoxes and accidents of his existence, Larry moves through the spontaneity of the seventies, the blind enchantment of the eighties, and the lean, mean nineties, completing at last his quiet, stubborn search for self. Larry's odyssey mirrors the male condition at the end of our century with targeted wit, unerring poignancy, and faultless wisdom.Amazon.com Review
Larry Weller is a regular guy, or so Carol Shields has himthink. When we first meet him in 1977 Winnipeg at age 26, he'spondering the pluses of Harris tweed, still living at home, andrealizing he's in love with his girlfriend, Dorrie, a flinty carsaleswoman. Larry is proud of his job at Flowerfolks, even though hefell into floral design by accident, and if his relationship with hisparents isn't perfect, it's not too bad, either. (Stu and Flo Wellermay have less page-time in Larry's Party, but they are hugelymemorable. He is a master upholsterer, happiest when working; she is awoman ruined by nervous guilt, having inadvertently killed off hermother-in-law with some improperly preserved green beans.)

Carol Shields has said that she had "always been struck by thefact that in most novels people aren't working." Though her heroclimbs the floral managerial trellis for 17 years and finds morerhapsody in work than marriage, Larry and Dorrie's honeymoon inEngland points him toward what will be his true vocation--mazes. Theseliving constructs turn him into a thinker, a man of imagination, andthe author's descriptions are quietly spectacular as well aseffortlessly sweet. Larry wonders at their "teasing elegance andcircularity ... a snail, a scribble, a doodle on the earth's skin withno other directed purpose but to wind its sinuous way arounditself." Just as Larry changes with the times--each ellipticalchapter ages him by one or two years--so does his art. In 1990, hedesigns a maze in which you can't really lose yourself. In 1997, theMcCord Maze "is intended to mirror the descent into unconscioussleep, followed by a slow awakening." Larry, too, has a slowawakening, taking several false turns before reaching midlife. As thenovel closes, with a bravura dinner party scene, he may finally be atease in the world. But his creator knows that he is only halfwaythere, and still has to negotiate his way from the center of the mazeto its exit. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (60)

4-0 out of 5 stars What is a Man?
Carol Shields is one of my favorite writers.In this novel she takes a look at what a man is by examining one man's endeavors, insights, genetics, socialization, sexuality and the women in his life.

Who is Larry?He is is past and his present, what he thinks about himself and what he completely represses and obscures.He is a man, both a unique person in his own right and the representation of every man.

Carol Shields explores Larry's life through his marriages, family of origin, friends, his penis, his brain, his past and his future.Who he is culminates in his party, thus the name of the book - 'Larry's Party'.

Larry is, by profession, a maze-maker (landscape artist).Metaphorically, this book examines the maze of his life.He is lost and always wandering.We think of laughable, likeable Larry, but we feel sorry for him too.

I highly recommend this book.

2-0 out of 5 stars Party's over
I had 2 main problems with this book
1) I didn't feel that the main character was a man. If he was a man he was castrated. Men have desires. Desires for all kinds of things. Larry comes off as a completely passive blob.
2) The book seems like it was a collection of short stories strung together. Why did she have to recap everything for us in each chapter. It doesn't really matter why, it was simply annoying.

4-0 out of 5 stars Larry's labyrinth...
A decent book, which loosely suggests a maze-like labyrinthine feel during the story evolution; but this is more implied than actively structured, unlike the way Emily Bronte consciously used structure in Wuthering Heights.

Just as when men try to write about female characters, there are some shallow and stereotypical touches, especially regarding Larry's sexuality. His instantly responsive penis is the stuff of fantasy, as many men experience erection loss the first time or two with a new woman, and often during the very first time having sex.

While he shows a number of stereotypical reactions to the onset of middle age and the theatrical trauma of hitting forty, there is no recognition of the fact that a man with Larry's quasi-morbidity would be experiencing levels of erectile dysfunction from his late twenties onwards.

As with The Stone Diaries, Carol tends to write epics about people who simply do not lead epic lives, even in their own heads, and Larry's Party is such a novel.

Despite the inherent flaws and the tendency towards over-writing, I still consider it worth a read.

4-0 out of 5 stars wonderful read
I love this writer. I loved this book. It's about Larry, a not very smart, not very flashy, regular guy. He likes plants and gets into building hedge mazes and Shields does a wonderful job intertwining life and all its surprises and twists and turns and outcomes with mazes. In the book while Larry is living his life: marrying, divorcing, fathering, working, we are treated to his thoughts on work, love, family, words, clothes, children, and even a whole chapter devoted to his penis. It's really a wonderful book and I'm very impressed with her ability.

3-0 out of 5 stars All the World's a Maze
A key to Larry Weller's life is that he graduated with a Floral Arts diploma.His mother suggested this career, to his father's chagrin, yet Larry had a talent for floristry and worked in the business for a number of years.From there he moved to maze making; that is, fantastic mazes that you could walk into and lose yourself, and was so good that word of mouth alone brought steady employment and recognition.This gives Larry's Party its continual thread as we roam through the mazes of Larry's families, moves, jobs, happiness, sadness, and ongoing questions about who he is, how he makes sense of his past, and what he wants.Larry's Party begins when Laurence John Weller is 26 and ends as he migrates through his latter 40s.Maze making is essential to the story. I don't think Larry's Party would be worth the drive had Larry had a flair for being a grocer.

Carol Shields successfully narrates Larry's life and continually raises answerless questions of meaning and purpose.I am nearing 40, and the chapters dealing with Larry's fortieth year are thought provoking and reflective.I was surprised that a woman would capture some of the deeper aspects of manhood.Comments such as the following were insightful (all from the 1997 Penguin Books paperback edition):

* It's as though they know that the meaning of their lives is not a fact to be discovered but a choice they make, have already, in fact, made. (p. 117)

* And somewhere, just out of earshot, he senses that his life is quietly clearing its throat, getting ready, at last, to speak. (p. 118).

* Getting older was to witness the steady decline of limitless possibility.That's all it was. (p. 173)

* ...yet this flicker is accompanied by the apprehension of himself as a man condemned, no matter what his accomplishments, to be ordinary, and to pass slowly, painfully, through each of life's orderly prescriptive stages. (p. 165).

She can also take such non-related topics such as mazes and upholstery and flower arranging and make them interesting.

Shields does have her weaknesses in describing manhood, as when she goes on and on (and on) about penises.The number of heterosexual men with whom I heterosexually bond just don't devote so much time, out loud anyways, to penises.We just don't have that envy...

(Attention Amazon Review Reader, a spoiler is coming).

I began to lose some interest in Larry, (he has, after all, few friends) after his second divorce and during his stroke.The novel became more and more an analysis of his unrequited life (These musical variations echo his own life: now happy, now sad, dipping, rising, fast and slow, up and down. Is it always going to be like his, he wonders, and is this all there is? [p. 210])

I thought the same, and wondered what turn the story would take.

The last chapter, Larry's Party, is an enjoyable romp of funny conversations occurring simultaneously throughout dinner.The book's end gives little doubt as to Larry's next life turn and provides a lighter touch after the many well written but at times depressing analyses.Taken all together the book worked, and Shield's offers some insights in the vein of E.M. Forster...high praise indeed. It also takes the reader back to Weller's first chapter Harris Tweed.What does that mean?Well, I won't give away too much of a spoiler....

... Read more

9. Happenstance: Two Novels in One About a Marriage in Transition
by Carol Shields
Paperback: 416 Pages (1994-03-01)
list price: US$15.00 -- used & new: US$3.69
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0140179518
Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars
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Customer Reviews (7)

2-0 out of 5 stars bummer
Happenstance was the selected book for our book club...first it took a couple of weeks to get it from Amazon then I had to power thru it.Cool concept of having a man's version and flip it over and you get the woman's version but you are kept waiting...and waiting...and
Wouldn't recommend this book.

3-0 out of 5 stars Whatever justification is needed
Just read this book at the behest of a friend who pointed out how the author uses a technique I've considered for a book of my own.The core of the story has already been repeated in prior reviews so please allow me to digress with my thoughts.

Just as a women will notice many more items seen in a room they've just visited, men will list far fewer.The same goes for words used per day with woman logging four or five times as many as men.The same is true in the authors depiction in this novel about a few days within a marriage.Married 20 years and living in a middle class suburb of Chicago, Brenda (the wife) is invited to and attends a quilting bee convention in Philadelphia while her husband Jack stays home with the children.Both entertain notions of an affair even though their marriage has been pretty good.In fact, something would be amiss if couples didn't think of sexual liasons with old lovers from time to time.Even Jimmy Carter admitted to lust in his heart, but the key here is restraint because that's what separates us from the apes.And that's at the core of this storyline.

The story is rather simple, but the words used to describe it are overly descriptive.They just go on and on making you want to stuff a sock in it if you could just figure out where.Brenda, the wife, has a fling, one with a small "[...]" while hubby Jack, who has stayed home with the children, dreams of a pre-marital lover.As an academic his life is pedestrian and somewhat frustrating while hers has some upside due to her talent as a creator of interesting quilts. The convention she attends has a feminist tilt to it and the author shows her leanings by referring to phrases such as "alienation" and "truth to power" but she treads lightly to the point that the reader hardly notices.

Women readers will find this book interesting for its character building and detail.Men?This isn't their fare.The crescendo in the plot should be directed by Sofia Coppola as it's delicately done with a high observance of discretion.The movie, "Lost in Translation" had this quality of restraint that women seem to prefer.Sex scenes for men are like the chicken counter at the butcher's, all [...] and thighs, but women are far more nuanced and thats the way Carol Shields describes Brenda's dalliance at the convention.In another sense this is a book where the wife assumes the role that used to go to the male.She goes to the convention and has the fling while he stays home with the kids and dreams of the type of escapade that his wife, unbeknownst to him, is having.It's female liberation in a Hef-esce world.

Even though I'm a guy, I enjoyed the way it was done.Sensitive?Me or the scene? Take your pick.If you're female, read the book, you'll like it.

5-0 out of 5 stars A unique tapestry of a marriage
After 20 years of living together, Brenda and Jack Bowman have perfected the careful balance of being intimate, friendly and supportive while at the same time being complete strangers to one another.

The current edition of "Happenstance" is printed with the two novels back-to-back. They were originally published as separate pieces in the early 1980s -- Brenda's story as "A Fairly Conventional Woman," and Jack's story as "Happenstance."

Read the summary elsewhere on this page - I won't repeat what's already been said over and over again. What makes "Happenstance" particularly unique and enjoyable is Shield's use of language and experimental style of narrative, more so in Brenda's story than Jack's. This may be because Shields grew as a writer (Brenda's story was published two years afterwards) or she was more familiar with her character (as she had already envisioned Brenda when creating Jack's work), but Shields' style of writing is heavily reflected in Brenda's internal presence much more so than in Jack's, in which Shields writes more straight-forward narrative.

For example (no spoilers here, don't worry), the first night of Brenda's conference, Shields writes the entirety of the interactions between Brenda and her fellow quilt makers in dialogue, minus dialogue tags most of the time, which is initially confusing. Shields does the same thing when Brenda meets Barry, a married metallurgist with whom Brenda makes an intimate connection, by taking out the dialogue tags when they talk to each other. In the first case, the lack of tags brings about the frenzied feel of a crowded atmosphere, in which one remembers bits and pieces of what people say but never the people themselves. In the second, the flow of dialogue brings about a sense of unity - it doesn't matter whether Brenda or Barry is speaking because of how fluidly their thoughts interweave. Shields uses language flawlessly, and it's important to note that she isn't just forgetting to note who said what - she writes (and omits) everything with a purpose.

Shields even makes quilt making interesting: one lecturer discusses quilting in terms of sexuality. Another woman uses each one of her quilts to tell a story, and Brenda's conversation with her is yet another step in Brenda's road to self-discovery.

This book is anything but an average, sentimental couple story. Shields injects power into tiny moments, bundling them together to create a sincere portrait of a marriage and - as another reviewer has said - leaves you with a sense that you've truly gained something by reading it.

4-0 out of 5 stars The two sides of each story
In a court of law, the judge and/or the jury listens to the plaintiff and the defendant before making a decision.It is important to listen to both sides of a story to get the real picture of what is going on.Nowhere is this more true that when it comes to man-woman relations.

I love books that have unusual formats.This one immediately caught my eye.I read Brenda's story first, then Jack's.Amazingly enough, after 20 years living together, they are still somewhat strangers to each other, yet they have a fine marriage, with harmony, peace, fulfilling sex, the works.Brenda goes away for one week to a quilters' convention and both she and Jack are presented with itchy temptation.The most entertaining point of the novel for me is their feelings towards the other's creativity.In her absence, Jack meditates about Brenda's quilts and her determination, and feels rather jealous about it.In his absence, Brenda thinks about Jack's book and his writer's block, and feels rather irritated about his sloth.The array of miscellaneous characters are interesting, although some are extremely annoying (the convention organizers, for example).Not a bad novel by an excellent author, who nevertheless has created better works.

5-0 out of 5 stars Portrait of a Marriage
A story about a short period in a long marriage, Carol Shield's tackles the interior monologues of both husband and wife with a unique style - half the story is the wife's take and the other half the husband's.

It's allthose things you think about your partner, but don't say because you trulywant to stay together.The "oh, he's doing that again, howembarrassing" sort of interior monologue, but with some niceintrospection on the part of each character.

Some slightly funny bits,but more in line with the absurd things that happen in a real life.

Allin all, an absorbing read. ... Read more

10. Jane Austen: A Life (Penguin Lives)
by Carol Shields
Paperback: 192 Pages (2005-05-31)
list price: US$14.00 -- used & new: US$4.96
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0143035169
Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars
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Product Description
With the same sensitivity and artfulness that are the trademarks of her award-winning novels, Carol Shields explores the life of a writer whose own novels have engaged and delighted readers for the past two hundred years. In Jane Austen, Shields follows this superb and beloved novelist from her early family life in Steventown to her later years in Bath, her broken engagement, and her intense relationship with her sister Cassandra. She reveals both the very private woman and the acclaimed author behind the enduring classics Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, and Emma. With its fascinating insights into the writing process from an award–winning novelist, Carol Shields’s magnificent biography of Jane Austen is also a compelling meditation on how great fiction is created.Amazon.com Review
It's a perennial source of frustration to Jane Austen's admirers that so little is known about her quiet existence as an unmarried woman seeking an outlet for her ferocious intelligence in genteel, rural England at the turn of the 19th century. Carol Shields, who won a Pulitzer Prize in 1995 for The Stone Diaries, has already proved herself a writer who can convey large truths with an economical amount of material, which makes her an excellent choice as Austen's biographer. Shields's brief but cogent text makes persuasive connections between Austen's novels and her life (the plethora of unsatisfactory mothers, for example, and the obvious sympathy for women barred from marriage by poverty and from careers by social custom), but she never forgets that fiction expresses first and foremost an artist's response to the world around her, not actual personal history. In fact, Shields argues, it may well have been Austen's sense that the novels she loved to read didn't provide a very accurate picture of the society she knew that fired her own work. Her merciless portraits of the economic underpinnings of marriage and family relations are in many ways more "realistic" than male writers' dramas of battle or females' fantasies of romantic bliss. As for her life's lack of incident, its one major disruption--her parents' move to Bath--prompted a nine-year silence from their formerly prolific daughter. Shields gleans as much as she can from Austen's letters, while remembering that they too gave voice to a persona, not the whole truth, in order to delineate a quirky, sometimes cranky, sometimes catty woman who was by no means the perfect maiden lady her surviving relatives sought to immortalize. An Austen biography will never be as much fun as an Austen novel, but Shields does a remarkably entertaining job of discerning the links between the two. --Wendy Smith ... Read more

Customer Reviews (19)

4-0 out of 5 stars A very nice overview of the life of Jane Austen and her works.
This is a wonderful book on the life of author Jane Austen. While there is something of a tendency to sentimentalize--and therefore in my opinion trivialize--Austen, Carol Shields seems to have found a nice balance between the "romance" of being Jane Austen and the realities of her life in which I found resonance.

While I have read most of the novels more than once, I have to admit that I knew little about Austen except what I came across in forwards and Wikipedia.It was nice to have a more compact and focused source of information on her life.Apparently there is little other than the author's work, a few letters and some family reminiscences to draw upon by way of biographical material.Even these seem to have been edited, intentionally and unintentionally, by members of her immediate family who desired to present a united front and a good image of Austen's life and relationships.

Ms Shields has managed to pull together the biographical sources and a critical and reasoned reading of the novels to create an image of the woman and her evolution as an author.While relying heavily on the novels, especially toward the end of the book, she notes too that the fictional characters were not simply carbon copies of the author herself or of her family and friends.She also shows the degree to which the author was in fact aware of her abilities and of her growth as an artist, despite the long delay in her ultimate recognition by the publishing world and the public in general.As she notes however in her summation, "What is known of Jane Austen's life will never be enough to account for the greatness of her novels, but the point of literary biography is to throw light on the writer's works, rather than combing the works to re-create the author.The two "accounts"--the life and the work--will always lack congruency and will sometimes appear to be in complete contradiction (p.174)."In truth, I doubt that even a gifted psychiatrist could manage to dissect the life and character of Austen--or any other great author--to the extent that the quality of their literary productions is entirely explicable.As with every human being, the whole is greater than the sum of it's parts.

A very nice overview of the life of Jane Austen and her works.

5-0 out of 5 stars brilliant biography of Austen with a refreshing look at her works
A short and engaging biography of the beloved author that deals not in mundane details or idle speculation, but in attempting to draw a portrait of Jane, her life, and her works. Refraining from drawing tedious or melodramatic parallels between her life and her work, the biography instead attempts to understand how a spunky, quiet, reclusive spinster, alone in the country at a time of female repression and the birth of the novel as an art form, was able to write some of the most beloved, extraordinary, realistic, psychological novels of the English language. Jane was definitely a member of the suffering and unappreciated genius club. Part biography, part literary criticism, this book is a great read. Grade: A+

2-0 out of 5 stars A Bit Disapointed
I enjoyed the first 10-20 pages because I'm hungry for any kind of info on Jane Austen. But I soon grew tired of Shields' speculations about Austen's feelings, motivations, choices, etc. She spends a lot of time trying to tie Austen's novels and characters to events in Austen's own life and after a while, it just started to feel like amateur psychology --more like a HS or college paper on Jane Austen than a well-researched biography (especially since it seemed like Shields relied primarily on other biographies, as oppposed to digging around on her own.)
I wouldn't recommend this one at all.

5-0 out of 5 stars Concise and Insightful...
Carol Shields' 2005 "Jane Austen: A Life" is a short read at under two hundred pages, but her economical writing style packs an intriguing biography of Jane Austen into those few pages.Shields examines the limited biographical material on Austen from the perspective of a successful fellow writer.Her narrative tracks in parallel the known events of Austen's life and the composition of her novels.Inevitably, Shields must fill in the limited record with informed speculation; the result is an enjoyable and thought-provoking book.

Shields finds that Jane Austen, like many writers, depended on continuity and security in her personal routine to enable her creative skills.Shields thus explains the decline in literary output beginning with the move of Jane's parents to the city of Bath from her childhood home and ending only when Jane and her sister and mother finally settled into Chawton House nine years later.

Shields delves into Jane's family relationships, suggesting that her relationship with her mother was an awkward one.Shields also puts more shades of nuance into Jane's intense relationship with her sister Cassandra than is found in most biographies.We tend to see Cassandra now as an appendage to Jane's story, but Shields suggests the reverse may have been true for much of Jane's life.

Contrary to the family biographies, Shields finds that Jane Austen knew much disappointment in her life.She was unlucky in love.She failed to marry, and never had her own home and family.Her failure to marry also doomed her to a life of genteel poverty as an adult, and an unhappy status as a poor relation within her extended family.Validation of her writing skills in the form of publication came late.The result, Shields surmises, was a woman who was sometimes bitter, feelings not entirely masked by the ferocious weeding of her correspondence at her death.

Shields provides brief but insightful commentary on the men who had a romantic interest in Jane Austen, including Tom LeFroy, Samuel Blackall, and Harris Bigg-Wither.She is frankly skeptical of the story told by Jane's sister Cassandra about a seaside romance with an unnamed young man in either 1801 or 1802.

Shields' narrative notes Jane's evolving writing skills throughout her life.Her status as an innovator in the genre of the novel, still new in Jane's day, is documented, as is her ability to artfully capture some truths about the world in which she lived and so acutely observed.

"Jane Austen: A Life" is very highly recommended to fans of Jane Austen as a short but fascinating read from the point of view of another author.

4-0 out of 5 stars Clear and Concise
Jane Austen: A Life by Carol Shields is a brief yet comprehensive biography of Jane Austen's life. It is written in a simple and engaging style which few readers will find any difficulty in reading. Not unfamiliar with Jane Austen, I occasionally found myself in slight disagreement with some of the author's conclusions, but overall, I was surprised and pleased by the quantity of information presented in such a clear and concise manner. Carol Shields touches on the major events of Jane Austen's life and uses these events to shed a little light on each of Jane Austen's novels as well as her minor works and some of her juvenilia. I would recommend Jane Austen: A Life by Carol Shields to anyone looking for a non-intimidating introductory biography about Jane Austen. ... Read more

11. Unless : A Novel
by Carol Shields
Paperback: 336 Pages (2003-05-01)
list price: US$13.95 -- used & new: US$19.70
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: B00029ZWQG
Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars
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Editorial Review

Product Description

I'm not interested, the way some people are, in being sad. I've had a look, and there's nothing down that road. Well now! What about the ripping sound behind my eyes, the starchy tearing of fabric, end to end; what about the need I have to curl up my knees when I sleep?

For all of her life, 44 year old Reta Winters has enjoyed the useful monotony of happiness: a loving family, good friends, growing success as a writer of light 'summertime' fiction. But this placid existence is cracked wide open when her beloved eldest daughter, Norah, drops out to sit on a gritty street corner, silent but for the sign around her neck that reads 'GOODNESS.' Reta's search for what drove her daughter to such a desperate statement turns into an unflinching and surprisingly funny meditation on where we find meaning and hope.

Warmth, passion and wisdom come together in Shields' remarkably supple prose. Unless, a harrowing but ultimately consoling story of one family's anguish and healing, proves her mastery of extraordinary fictions about ordinary life.

Amazon.com Review
"A life is full of isolated events," writes Carol Shields near the end of Unless, "but these events, if they are to form a coherent narrative, require odd pieces of language to link them together, little chips of grammar (mostly adverbs or prepositions) that are hard to define... words like therefore, else, other, also, thereof, therefore, instead, otherwise, despite, already, and not yet." Shield's explanation for her novel's title lends meaning to this multilayered narrative in which a mother's grief over a daughter's break with the family revises her feminist outlook and pushes her craft as a writer in a new direction.

The oldest daughter of 44-year-old Reta Winters suddenly, inexplicably, drops out of college and ends up on a Toronto street corner panhandling, with a cardboard sign around her neck that reads "goodness." The quiet comforts of Reta's small-town life and the constancy of her feminist perspective sustain her hope that her daughter will snap out of this, whatever "this" is. Threaded into her family's crisis is her ongoing internal elegy on the exclusion of women from the literary canon, which she transposes to mean her daughter's exclusion from humanity. Reta wonders if her daughter has discovered, as she herself did years before, that the world is "an endless series of obstacles, an alignment of locked doors," and has chosen to pursue the one thing that doesn't require power or a voice: goodness.

In her own writing, Reta reaffirms her own sense of self, as well as her sense of humor. As her theoretical reflections on modern womanhood play counterpoint to her unwavering sense of creating a home and keeping her family together, Reta's smarts and fears form a wonderfully coherent narrative--a life worth reading about. With Unless, the inaugural title in HarperCollins's Fourth Estate imprint, Shields (author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Stone Diaries) once again asserts her place in the canon. --Emily Russin ... Read more

Customer Reviews (109)

2-0 out of 5 stars Empty story, some good writing
Carol Shields clearly has the skill to write sentences well. Unfortunately, the story line is the book is missing until about five pages from the end. Not worth the read unless you are a middle aged Canadian writer, worried about your teen daughters, caught up in the fact that you are passive and basically unhappy with the way feminism of the 70's and 80s turned out. If that's the case, you will love this book. This book bored me to tears. I only finished it for a book reading group and the fact that I had actually paid money for all of this pontificating and nonsense which took 320 pages to write.

2-0 out of 5 stars I Read This Book So You Don't Have To
The story is interesting, the storytelling is easy to follow, and that's about where my praise ends.Unless is centered on a woman (Rita) who has lost her once-promising daughter to the streets, and how she spirals into despair because of it.She decides that her daughter "opted out" of life because she realized that, as a woman, much of life was already closed to her:excellence, respect, opportunities, etc. (all of which is true; anyone who claims we have actually reached equality should check out some statistics on violence, wages, eating disorders and heads of Fortune 500 companies).But whatever valid points she makes about gender discrepancies (she writes letters to men who have consciously or subconsciously slighted the female half of the world) are eradicated by her refusal to voice her grievances (she never mails them).How are we supposed to respect her demand for equality when she won't even voice that demand, and instead spends her days glorying in the triviality of polishing her banister and shopping?

I was willing to go along with Rita despite her uselessness-- after all, not everyone is cut out for activism.However, what irrevocably lost me is her outrageous pretension.She describes her expensive possessions in great detail, she seems to think that a daughter dropping out of college is the worst thing that could happen to anyone (probably because of her own liberal arts degree, she wants Norah to study linguistics), and everyone in the book seems to be upper-class and white (although she and her friends have the decency to be embarrassed about ordering a bottle of "good white wine" at a campy rodeo-themed restaurant).The clincher, though, is when a man comes to her house to deliver mulch and makes the mistake of telling Rita how he dreams of finding a job that pays enough to be able to marry his girlfriend and start a family.Rita describes his dreams as "so pathetically little"-- why?Because he's not learning French, like her?Because he's not writing a novel, like her?It's not only condescending, but downright hypocritical:she claims that her life is centered around her children, but this man is not entitled to center his dreams about his future children?

Of course, everything is wrapped up tidily at the end of the novel without Rita having to lift a manicured finger.Needless to say, I will not be checking out the other works of Carol Shields.

4-0 out of 5 stars grief peppered with humor
My favorite chapters are the unsent letters that Reta, the narrator, composes to authors who acknowledge the influence of other male writers, ignoring female writers. The best is the one she writes to someone whose obituary she has just read. Feminism is certainly a dominant theme in this book, but so are family and grief. The grief, however, is not over a loved one's death. Reta and Tom's oldest daughter, Norah, has essentially dropped out, silently begging for money on a Toronto street corner, with a handwritten sign around her neck, bearing the single word "Goodness." This unfortunate situation consumes the lives of Reta, Tom, and their two younger daughters. I guess you could say that at least death has closure, whereas Norah's circumstances cause ongoing concern as winter approaches. The overriding mystery is what caused Norah to take the drastic step of dropping out of college to panhandle, but there's actually a lot in this book to savor. I loved that Reta's mother-in-law, Lois, has a file of 100 dessert recipes and brings dessert to dinner every night, as soon as Reta signals by closing the red kitchen curtains. Also, it's almost a book within a book, as Reta contemplates various endings for the novel she is writing, a sequel about a fashion writer who is engaged to a trombonist. Her new overbearing editor is a hoot, interrupting all her sentences and suggesting that she use a pseudonym, such as R. R. Summers. (Has J.K. Rowling started a trend?) You can imagine how our feminist protagonist feels about such a gender-neutral name. And, of course, everyone has a theory as to why Norah has checked out. The author drops a hint early on but not large enough for me to put two and two together.

4-0 out of 5 stars Beautiful and imaginative
This is a "gauzy" novel about a mother's reaction to her daughter's withdrawal from life and decision to panhandle on a street corner. By "gauzy," I mean that the prose is concise and reveals only certain aspects of the story and characters.There is plenty of white space to be filled by the imagination.The prose is not overburdened with details.The book is tinged with feminism and the idea that women are destined for "goodness" but not "greatness." I found this novel to be engaging throughout and imaginative.

4-0 out of 5 stars A Book to Read Before You Die
According to Peter Boxall's "1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die," "Unless," by Pulitzer-Prize winning novelist Carol Shields, is a seminal work worthy of being included in the "canon" - at least, according to the first edition of that guide (according to the second edition, published this year, we can now safely die without reading "Unless"). Interestingly, while Carol Shields is (to a limited extent) included in the "canon," one of the major questions she asks in "Unless" is why women are so often excluded. In "Unless," the protagonist, 44-year-old writer, Reta Winters deals with the plight of her 19-year-old daughter, who has given up her life to sit on a street corner, by distracting herself with work on a "light novel." Her friend, Danielle Westerman, a famous author in her own right, believes that Reta is wasting her time writing frivolous novels, but for all of her serious work, Westerman is nevertheless excluded from the "canon," prompting Reta to wonder, "How does she bear it? All the words she's written, all the years buried inside her. What does her shelf of books amount to, what force have these books on the world?" What, she wonders, is the purpose of writing, especially for women, when their work is so easily dismissed? Although Reta believes that women writers are excluded from the greatness accorded the "canon," ultimately she finds a purpose to her writing because of the personal joy it gives her and the voice it gives to women.

One of the major themes explored in "Unless" is the issue of how women are allowed "[g]oodness but not greatness," in the words of Danielle Westerman, a feminist pioneer and Holocaust survivor whose memoirs Reta has translated. Westerman believes that Reta's daughter has dropped out of life to sit on a street corner, wearing a "GOODNESS" sign around her neck, because she "has simply succumbed to the traditional refuge of women without power: she has accepted in its stead complete powerlessness, total passivity, a kind of impotent piety." In a series of unsent letters to various men who have excluded women from, among other things, a list of the Great Minds of the Western Intellectual world, a list of problem solvers, and a list of great writers, Reta expresses her outrage with "how casually and completely [women are] shut out of the universe," agreeing with Westerman that Norah has escaped from life after realizing she has no possibility for greatness. Like Westerman and her daughter, Reta has been allowed goodness, but not greatness. Although her first novel, "My Thyme Is Up," sold well, it was not taken seriously as a work of art. According to a review in the "New Yorker," her book "is very much for the moment, though certainly not for the ages." Writing the sequel, Reta again plans a book of comic fiction, featuring the dim-witted Alicia, but her male editor believes her draft is "close to greatness" and "could be one of those signal books of our time . . . with a mere two or three shifts of perspective" - that is, by increasing the role of the male character Roman and exploring the theme of his search for identity. In other words, in order to attain "greatness," Reta must sacrifice Alicia, in her gendered role, and focus instead on an "Everyman" Roman and his "universal" search for identity. In deciding how to finish her book, Reta must also decide what the point of her writing is - is she writing to be taken seriously or is she writing for herself?

Ultimately, Reta decides she is writing for herself - for the joy writing gives her and because it gives her a voice. Reta begins work on the sequel to "My Thyme Is Up" as a "diversion" to forget about Norah; through her writing, she says, "I can squeeze my eyes shut, pop through a little door on the wall, and stand outside my child's absence." Whether she is working on a serious book or "light fiction" doesn't matter; it is the act of writing itself that gives her comfort, that redeems her. While out for dinner one night, Reta decides to "add to the literature of washroom walls," scrawling, "My heart is broken." This simple act serves to make Reta feel alive, to give her life: "At once I felt a release of pressure around my ribs. . . . I was allowed to be a receptor and transmitter both, not a dead thing but a live link." Unfortunately, her joy in writing the sequel is interrupted by her editor's comments on the draft. Whereas, before she had heard from him, her book had been her "darling baby" and "greatest distraction," now she dreads working on the book and stops writing. In the end, she rejects her publisher's ideas for Roman, not worrying about converting her book into a serious work of act but rather finishing it with a happy ending, "a convention of comic fiction," and asserts that her joy in writing is more important than how the book is considered by critics or whether it is included in the "canon." But it still begs the question that Reta posed about Danielle Westerman's work - that is, if her book is ignored, what then does it amount to?

Ultimately, the value of Reta's writing is that it gives her a voice. In a conversation with her friends, Reta realizes that men don't really talk to women. One of her friends says, "Men aren't interested in women's lives" - they don't care what women think and don't let women "enter the conversation." But even if, in the real world, the inner and outer lives of women aren't as important as men's, in popular fiction, they usually are. Reta acknowledges, "It is Alicia's skin I wear," and she refuses her editor's request to make Roman the center of her book. In "My Thyme Is Up," Alicia's - or Reta's - voice is heard, and that matters, even if her work is dismissed as inconsequential. The importance of Reta's voice is highlighted in a scene where she searches for "the perfect scarf, not the near-perfect and certainly not the impulse purchase we usually settled for" for her daughter Norah. Even though Norah provides minimal input for the scarf - she wants something blue and yellow - Reta conceives in her mind the scarf that will delight her daughter's heart and goes to twenty different boutiques in order to find it. When she does end up finding the perfect scarf, she shows it to one of her female friends, whose eyes tear up: "It's just that it's so beautiful. . . . You invented it, created it out of your imagination." Even if the scarf, like a book of comic fiction, may not amount to much from a world perspective, it is still important. While Reta can't control her daughter's life or her happiness, she can "provide something temporary and necessary: this dream of transformation." In other words, what matters is not the end product - the scarf or the book - but it is the act of not settling, of having imagination, of creating something your own, of giving others happiness that matters. Reta finds her voice not only in Alicia, the woman, but in Alicia the woman writer, who herself is a creator. Although Reta knows, as a writer, it is poor form to also make Alicia a writer, she can't help herself from exploring the area of writing, which "is the richest territory we can imagine. . . . This matters, the remaking of an untenable world through the nib of a pen; it matters so much I can't stop doing it." Her writing does matter, she concludes, because it allows her to enter a conversation normally she is excluded from; it gives her a voice in shaping her own world. If she has to sacrifice that voice to achieve greatness, it is not worth it. Having her own voice recognized and heard is what matters.

Although Reta believes that women writers are excluded from the greatness accorded the "canon," ultimately she finds a purpose to her writing because of the personal joy it gives her and the voice it gives to women. As a reader, I admit, I read "Unless" only because it was included in the "canon," as I am trying to become more well-read and add books from Dr. Boxall's guide of 1001 important works to my collection. But, the truth is, I will be lucky to make it through even one-tenth of his list because I know, if I tried reading the whole list, I would quickly tire of trudging through accounts of dirty old white men and their supposed "everyman quest for identity," which neither interests me, gives me joy, or gives me a voice. The power in "Unless" - the thing that gives it a "force on the world" - is that it provides ordinary characters - ordinary people you meet in real life - with a voice. Even if Reta Winters isn't a universal character - i.e., she is not an Everyman but likely appeals only to women - and she is not struggling to find her identity, her struggle to make it through each of her ordinary days is still important. Her story may not be "one for the ages," but it is enough to provide readers with a transformative moment of happiness, and that is good enough for me. ... Read more

12. Almost Late for School: And More School Poems
by Carol Shields
Hardcover: 32 Pages (2003-07-28)
list price: US$15.99 -- used & new: US$5.17
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: B003F76ESM
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Editorial Review

Product Description
Here is a follow-up to the ever-popular Lunch Money, with all the clever exuberance and child's-eye view that made the first book an IRA-CBC Children's Choice and reviewers say, "This collection . . . belongs in every classroom." Late to school? Tell the story of all the daring deeds that delayed you. Got a science project? Make your brother disappear. From dreaded oral reports and cranky bandleaders to broken friendships and frantic fund-raisers, these twenty-two poems offer humor, surprise, and a knowing slant on the changing moods of a school day. Paul Meisel illustrates the mischief and mayhem with lively energy. ... Read more

13. Swann
by Carol Shields
Paperback: 416 Pages (1996)
-- used & new: US$9.50
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0679307877
Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars
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Customer Reviews (10)

5-0 out of 5 stars A very fine novel
I love all the different dimensions this novel offers up. Each chapter, except of the final one, deals with one of the four main characters. Shields intoduces us to them by using different narrators. There are first and third person narrators, one chapter is told from the perspective of the reader (my favourite), and the final chapter is written as a screen play.
Incredible, really, to have pulled it all togehter, laced with a generous dose of satire, this is an amazing book.

4-0 out of 5 stars Not quite up to her usual standard of excellence
As a big fan of Carol Shields', I was slightly disappointed in Swann.The book started out strong and I really liked the four characters who were mesmerized by the life and death of rural poet, Mary Swann.Scholarly Sarah, Frederick the editor, and Jimroy, the cynical biographer were all well developed and interesting, except for Rose, the librarian, who I felt was very much of a stereotype.

Swann was an unabashed critique of academic pretensions and in that respect, it succeeded.It did not succeed as a mystery because I did not like the way that Shields changed voices towards the end of the book.She wrote the final conclusion of the book as a screenplay, which seemed farcical and ridiculous.I think that Shields could have made her point more effectively by writing the entire book in the third person -- many academics and people in the publishing field will play loose and fast with the truth when they don't like the information that they discover about their object of fascination. How true that is!

Having said that, even a disappointing book by Shields is a great read since she was a literary genius.
I was deeply saddened by her death, which put an end to a unique and distinct writing career.

Sigrid Macdonald
Author of D'Amour Road

5-0 out of 5 stars Oh god, this novel is stupendously finest kind
I just finished this novel and still am reeling six ways from Sunday because it's just too damn fine. Brilliant, funny, wise, mordant, stupendous, gorgeous novel about creativity and how it's perceived. A particularly fine academic satire but very much more. If you haven't read this yet, get thee hence asap. What great and useful pleasure awaits.

1-0 out of 5 stars I Don't Get It
The ending was a monumental let down.Did I miss something that the other reviewers understood?Nothing is done to apprehend the thief...it's all left up in the air.I didn't like the book from the beginning but plodded on to the end.What a mistake. Don't wast your time.

4-0 out of 5 stars Magic flows from her pen ...
It comes as quite a shock at the beginning of the fifth chapter of "Swann" to be reminded that Sarah Maloney, Morton Jimroy, Rose Hindmarch and Frederick Cuzzi area all fictional characters.By that time, having read each of their brushes with Mary Swann (who is also fictitious) and her poetry, you feel that you'd recognize them in a crowd.

In this early novel, Carol Shields shows the talent developed in later works, especially her penchant for using disparate literary styles to tell the story.Her characters are so beautifully formed; they leap from the page and demand you get to know them.Locations are so vividly described, you feel you could immediately find them, should you be transported to Chicago, Palo Alto, Nardeau or Kingston.

In 1965, within hours of submitting her body of work, written on scraps of paper and stored in a paper bag, to literary publisher and newspaper owner, Frederick Cruzzi, Mary Swann, a "primitive" poet from rural Canada, was hacked to pieces by her violent brute of a husband.The 125 poems were subsequently published in a small, stapled pamphlet with a limited run of 250 copies, most of which Cruzzi and his wife ended up giving away.

Many years after publication, Sarah Maloney, a feminist scholar of some note, found a copy in the limited selection or reading material in a remote cottage on a lake in Wisconsin, where she'd gone to have a good long, hard think about her life.Intrigued, she set out to find out more about Swann and her poetry, and soon was in correspondence with a select little group of assorted fans and scholars, including pretentious Morton Jimroy, self-appointed biographer, spinsterly Rose Hindmarch, librarian who lent books to Swann, worldwise Frederick Cuzzi, publisher to whom Swann entrusted her work.

The present time of the book is 1987, and the first ever Swann Symposium is about to take place.Strange things start happening with Swann memorabilia - Sarah's copy of "Swann's Songs" can't be found; Cruzzi's house is burgled and the only things missing are the four copies of the pamphlet he'd retained; one of the two known photographs of Mary Swann goes missing from the Nardeau library.

In this fascinating tale, it's intriguing how the threads of Mary Swann's life slowly pull together, even as she seems to be disappearing forever and how the works of an extremely little known poet, dead for more than 20 years, cause such bitter rivalries, jealousies and criminal behaviour.But even as she becomes more ephemeral, her effect on her admirers becomes more profound.

The first four chapters, almost novellas, of this book titled "Mary Swan" in the British edition I found in my library, each tell of a central character's encounter with Swann and/or her work.The Swan Symposium, the final chapter, is written as a play, which I thought at first was a little precious.Then I realised that since it all took place in a hotel and was mostly dialogue anyway, what better way of expressing it.Readers are spared all the words normally used to pad dialogue out into sentences."Bit part" players are given beautifully descriptive names like Butter Mouth, Merry Eyes, Silver Cufflinks, Woman with Turban, Woman in Pale Suede Boots, Wistful Demeanour and Crinkled Forehead - that's all you need to picture them.

"Swann" has been described as a "literary mystery" but it's not a traditional mystery with a detective following up clues - in fact, I think to categorise it as a mystery is to sell this rich and intriguing work short.If you want to categorise it at all, it's a beautifully subtle satire aimed at the pretentiousness found in the literary world.If any of Ms Shields' novels were worthy of a Pulitzer Prize, this is the one.

I've read several of Carol Shields works and, with the exception of "Stone Diaries", each has usurped the last as my favourite.This is a little worrying, since I've been working my way backwards through the list.I guess I'll have to stop now. ... Read more

14. Random Illuminations: Conversations with Carol Shields
by Eleanor Wachtel
Paperback: 184 Pages (2007-09-21)
list price: US$19.95 -- used & new: US$4.07
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0864925018
Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars
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A great conversation can offer insight into the hearts and minds of its participants. In this intimate, wide-ranging collection of conversations (and some correspondence), writer-broadcaster Eleanor Wachtel and her friend, author Carol Shields, touch on both the personal and the professional. Eleanor Wachtel first met Carol Shields in 1980; her first interview with Carol occurred in 1987, following the publication of Swann: A Mystery. They soon became friends, embarking on a correspnodence and conversations that would last her almost two decades. In this illuminating book, Eleanor Wachtel brings together her rich collection of interviews with Carol from that first occasion to Shields's death in 2003. Disarmingly direct, Carol Shields talks about her writing, language and consciousness, and her interest in "redeeming the lives of lost or vanished women," all the while touching on topics as diverse as feminism, raising children, the metaphorical search for a home, and the joys and griefs of everyday life. Carol Shields is best known for her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Stone Diaries. She also won the Governor General's Award for fiction, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Non-fiction, the Orange Prize, and numerous other awards. She was twice shortlisted for the Booker Prize. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (1)

5-0 out of 5 stars Some last words from Carol Shields
When Carol Shields died in 2003, one of the finest voices speaking for the luminosity of ordinary human life was silenced.Hearing that voice again in these interviews reminds me once more of Shields' great empathy for and sensitivity to the average person's life journey, a journey she always rendered with kindness, humor, and keen insight in her novels. Wachtel is an excellent interviewer, asking good, focused questions rather than the usual fluff too often encountered in the interview format. She also provides us with a few letters written to her by Shields. If we cannot have another Shields novel, these interviews provide us with something almost as gratifying. ... Read more

15. BrainJuice: Science, Fresh Squeezed!
by Carol Diggory Shields, Carol Diggory Shields
Hardcover: 64 Pages (2003-09)
list price: US$14.95 -- used & new: US$4.33
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Asin: 1593540051
Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars
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General science never stops! You have to learn earth science, space science, life science, chemistry, and physics - and that's way too much! But before you administer hot compresses to the head and herbal tea for settling the nerves, try Science, Fresh Squeezed!As American History, Fresh Squeezed!, the first in the BrainJuice series, did for our country's past, Science, Fresh Squeezed! offers everything you need to know and understand about the entire body of scientific knowledge. Extracted from unreadable tomes, reduced to its essence, served up in hilarious poetry by Carol Diggory Shields, and garnished with off-the-wall drawings by Richard Thompson, these 41 poems will make another science class completely unnecessary. No guarantees on grades, though! ... Read more

Customer Reviews (1)

5-0 out of 5 stars !!
I used this book as an end of the day wrap up after science class, and the students loved it! They found the poems funny, especially the ones about things they were learning- and we even started writing our own poems about science. A book(or anything!) that helps students laugh and WRITE about science? Awesome! ... Read more

16. Unless
by Carol Shields
Paperback: 336 Pages (2003-03-03)
list price: US$16.50 -- used & new: US$3.95
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Asin: 0007137699
Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars
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Dazzling novel from Carol Shields, author of 'The Stone Diaries', winner of the Pulitzer Prize, and 'Larry's Party', winner of the Orange Prize.'Breathtaking!a masterpiece.' Geoffrey Wansell, Daily MailReta Winters has a loving family, good friends, and growing success as a writer of light fiction. Then her eldest daughter suddenly withdraws from the world, abandoning university to sit on a street corner, wearing a sign that reads only 'Goodness'. As Reta seeks the causes of her daughter's retreat, her enquiry turns into an unflinching, often very funny meditation on society and where we find meaning and hope. 'Unless' is a dazzling and daring novel from the undisputed master of extraordinary fictions about so-called 'ordinary' lives. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (1)

4-0 out of 5 stars "Remaking the untenable world through the nib of a pen."
A mother's agonized attempt to help to her 19-year-old daughter Norah, a drop-out who now begs on a street corner with a sign saying "Goodness" around her neck, provides the framework for Shields's thoughtful and sensitive look at women's roles and the juggling acts they sometimes require. Reta Winters, a successful writer, believes at first that by writing a bright, perky novel about "lost children and goodness and going home," she will be "remaking the untenable world through the nib of a pen." But real life--and Shields's real novel--are, of course, much more complex than that.

Despite the support of her two younger and very caring daughters, her empathetic husband, her friends, and Danielle Westerman, the French feminist whose books she has translated, Kate nevertheless discovers that trying to help a child who will not be helped is a terrible loneliness to bear: "I need to know I'm not alone in what I apprehend, this awful incompleteness that has been alive inside me all this time." Evaluating her life as a wife, writer, friend, mother, and, increasingly, feminist, Kate allows us to share her inner life, both as it is revealed in her writing and as she wrestles with Norah's "hibernation" on the street corner.

Filled with dazzling images (an idea that has "popped out of the ground like the rounded snout of a crocus on a cold lawn" ; women who have been "sent over to the side pocket of the snooker table and made to disappear"), this Shields novel is more meditative than many of her other novels. "I've been trying to focus my thoughts on the immensity, rather than the particular," Kate/Shields says. As she inspires the reader to share this immensity, she provides insights into the essence of who we are and who we might become.Mary Whipple
... Read more

17. Animagicals: Colors
by Carol Diggory Shields
Hardcover: 12 Pages (2000-10-01)
list price: US$9.95 -- used & new: US$0.01
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Asin: 1929766041
Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars
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Mysteriously arresting images and delightfully intriguing verse - compel readers to open the flap to reveal... an Animagical. Award-winning, best-selling poet Carol Diggory Shields matches talents with a young artist who casts a unique eye on the world, Svetlan Junakovic.The results are exuberantly witty, astonishingly unexpected, and always wonderful. Each title sports twelve spreads, twelve verses with an Ogden Nash-like whimsy, and twelve visual surprises. Deceptively simple and devilishly complex-these are books that everyone from toddlers to adults can crow about. Amazon.com Review

The jungle night
is black and deep,
And soon I'll join
my friends
in sleep,
I'm watching
the moon,
The moon's
watching me,
on this
Unfold the tall, skinny page covered by an inky, star-spattered sky tofind a... chimpanzee! Seeming to grow right out of the night sky, themidnight-colored chimp gazes out at the reader with solemn, wise eyes.Turn the page to find another animagical poem about a pink flamingo,then a blue parrot, a red crab--a whole jungle full of brightly huedcritters, complete with riddle verses and fold-out pages revealing theanimal behind the enigmatic rhyme.

One dozen tricks of the eye challenge readers young and old withwhimsical paintings of a butterfly lurking behind an orange flower, afrog camouflaged by leaves, and a swan disguised as a snowman. So openthose eyes wide and see what you can see! (Ages 3 to 7)--Emilie Coulter ... Read more

Customer Reviews (1)

5-0 out of 5 stars Animagicals: Colors
I purchased this book for my daughter when she was 6 months old.She is now almost 2 and this is one of her nightly requests.The artwork is captivating to young eyes.The rhythm of the poetry is a joy to read aloud.I was very suprised the book was a translation - the riddle poems seem perfect not stilted, as some foreign translations.Now my daughter makes the sound of the animal before the flap is opened to reveal the answer.This book will make the journey to her naming the animal hidden.With 12 riddles this book is also a bargain. ... Read more

18. The Orange Fish
by Carol Shields
Paperback: 208 Pages (1992-03-01)
list price: US$13.00 -- used & new: US$3.78
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0140152822
Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars
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Twelve short stories by Pulitzer Prizewinner Carol Shields. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (3)

5-0 out of 5 stars A Great Collection
This collection was much better than I expected.Many of the stories in the dozen that make up the collection touched me, made me think, and changed how I look at a few important things in life.The first story, the Orange Fish, was very interesting and I loved the many messages and interpretations that the lithograph brought out in the different characters.The couple in this story undergoes a metamorphosis because of their purchase of a lithograph of an orange fish; the idea that a purchase can tranform a marriage seems preposterous, but Shields makes it believable.'Hazel' was another one of my favourite stories, about a widow who acquires job skills and confidence and expects to take control of her destiny and realizes that much of what happens in her life and in the lives around her occurs by accident.Another story, 'Times of Sickness and Health' struck a chord with me, as it has a precise poetic quality to it and a magical element.

4-0 out of 5 stars Each Story a Little World
Each book that I read by Carol Shields only strengthens my admiration."The Orange Fish", a collection of short stories, is my recent discovery.Although one of her earliest collections, it still bears hersignature mark of strong, daring prose/poetry that draws you into theindividual worlds of each story.Most of the stories deal with simple,daily occurrences, with every truthful word Carol Shields invites thereader to enter.You feel as if you are interacting with the charactersand talking with Kay about her troubled marriage over a cup of tea in"Times of Sickness and Health."You root for the success ofMarta's glass-blowing movies in "Collision."You sympathize withMeershank's writer's block in "Block Out."In effect, as thereader, you inhabit the individual world of each story and want to staylonger.I would recommend this to anyone who wants to read about ordinarypeople reflected through the mirror of powerful prose.

4-0 out of 5 stars Each Story a Little World
Each book that I read by Carol Shields only strengthens my admiration."The Orange Fish", a collection of short stories, is my recent discovery.Although one of her earliest collections, it still bears hersignature mark of strong, daring prose/poetry that draws you into theindividual worlds of each story.Most of the stories deal with simple,daily occurrences, with every truthful word Carol Shields invites thereader to enter.You feel as if you are interacting with the charactersand talking with Kay about her troubled marriage over a cup of tea in"Times of Sickness and Health."You root for the success ofMarta's glass-blowing movies in "Collision."You sympathize withMeershank's writer's block in "Block Out."In effect, as thereader, you inhabit the individual world of each story and want to staylonger.I would recommend this to anyone who wants to read about ordinarypeople reflected through the mirror of powerful prose. ... Read more

19. Dropped Threads 2: More of What We Aren't Told
by Carol Shields, Marjorie Anderson
Paperback: 400 Pages (2003-04-08)
list price: US$16.00 -- used & new: US$5.44
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0679312064
Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars
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The idea for Dropped Threads: What We Aren't Told came up between Carol Shields and longtime friend Marjorie Anderson over lunch. It appeared that after decades of feminism, the “women's network” still wasn't able to prevent women being caught off-guard by life. There remained subjects women just didn't talk about, or felt they couldn't talk about. Holes existed in the fabric of women's discourse, and they needed examining.

They asked thirty-four women to write about moments in life that had taken them by surprise or experiences that received too little discussion, and then they compiled these pieces into a book. It became an instant number one bestseller, a book clubs' favourite and a runaway success. Dropped Threads, says Anderson, "tapped into a powerful need to share personal stories about life's defining moments of surprise and silence." Readers recognized themselves in these honest and intimate stories; there was something universal in these deeply personal accounts. Other stories and suggestions poured in. Dropped Threads would clearly be an ongoing project.

Like the first volume, Dropped Threads 2 features stories by well-known novelists and journalists such as Jane Urquhart, Susan Swan and Shelagh Rogers, but also many excellent new writers including teachers, mothers, a civil servant, a therapist. This triumphant follow-up received a starred first review in Quill and Quire magazine, which called it “compassionate and unflinching.” The book deals with such difficult topics as loss, depression, disease, widowhood, violence, and coming to terms with death. Several stories address some of the darker sides of motherhood:

- A mother describes how, while sleep-deprived and in a miserable marriage, she is shocked to find infanticide crossing her mind.
- Another woman recounts a memory of her alcoholic mother demanding the children prove their loyalty in a terrifying way.
- A woman desperate for children refers to the bleak truth as: "Another Christmas of feeling barren." Narrating the fertility treatment she undergoes, the hopes dashed, she is amusing in retrospect and yet brutally honest.

While they deal with loss and trauma, the pieces show the path to some kind of acceptance, showing the authors’ determination to learn from pain and pass on the wisdom gained. The volume also covers the rewards of learning to be a parent, choosing to remain single, or fitting in as a lesbian parent. It explores how women feel when something is missing in a friendship, how they experience discrimination, relationship challenges, and other emotions less easily defined but just as close to the bone:

- Alison Wearing in “My Life as a Shadow” subtly describes allowing her personality to be subsumed by her boyfriend's.
- Pamela Mala Sinha tells how, after suffering a brutal attack, she felt self-hatred and a longing for retribution.
- Dana McNairn talks of her uncomfortable marriage to a man from a different social background: "I wanted to fit in with this strange, wondrous family who never raised their voices, never swore and never threw things at one another."

Humour, a confiding tone, and beautiful writing elevate and enliven even the darkest stories. Details bring scenes vividly to life, so we feel we are in the room with Barbara Defago when the doctor tells her she has breast cancer, coolly dividing her life into a 'before and after.' Lucid, reflective and poignant, Dropped Threads 2 is for anyone interested in women's true stories. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (1)

4-0 out of 5 stars Picking up the threads
A series of just over thirty short essays by Canadian authors, Dropped Threads 2 is a continuation of the first Dropped Threads book which began the discussion of women's lives from childrearing (or choosing not to) to rape to love to death and beyond. Each essay is a snippet of these women's lives, of things they have witnessed and done and thought - a mini memoir, if you will.

While the topics and ideas in these essays no longer feel like items that cannot be and should not be discussed in the 21st century, they are certainly still often found to be taboo and stifling - stuff not to be discussed in "polite company". The overwhelming emotion in the essays is the relief on behalf of the authors to have an outlet for their insights - insights that are often born of tumultuous conditions. Every woman who reads these essays will find familiar ideas and actions and will be inspired to take note of her own experiences in life.

Given the various topics and writing styles there is something for everyone in this collection of brilliantly compiled essays. It is a thoughtful gift idea for any young woman making her way in the world. ... Read more

20. DROPPED THREADS - What We Aren't Told: Starch Salt Chocolate Wine; What Stays in the Family; Notes on a Piece for Carol; Lettuce Turnip and Pea; Casseroles; Hope for the Best - Expect the Worst; Tuck Me In - Redefining Attachment Between Mothers and Sons
by Carol; Anderson, Marjorie (editors) (Joan Barfoot; Lorna Crozier; Isabel Huggan; Anne Hart; Bonnie Burnard; Susan Lightstone; Marni Jackson; Shields
Paperback: 358 Pages (2001)

Isbn: 0679310711
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The hidden emotional territory of women's lives--from the joys of belly dancing to the agony of caring for a dying child--is revealed in the pages of Dropped Threads: What We Aren't Told. Editors Carol Shields and Marjorie Anderson bring together 34 eclectic and engaging pieces by renowned authors (e.g. Margaret Atwood and Bonnie Burnard) as well as women whose day jobs include politics, child-raising, and cattle ranching. Marni Jackson's "Tuck Me In" is an entertaining account of conflicts with a teenage son who considers shampoo a culturally imposed artifact. Perhaps the most powerful essay is "Edited Version," in which Isla James describes her dying child's last days at home.... ... Read more

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