Daily Archives: May 16, 2011

‘Collected Stories’ by Carol Shields

2004 (posthumously), 593 p.

For someone who doesn’t like short stories, I seem to be reading quite a few of them lately.  This book is actually an omnibus edition of three short story collections: Various Miracles, The Orange Fish, and Dressing up for the Carnival.

I’ve read several Carol Shields books- The Stone Diaries, Larry’s Party, Unless and her biography of Jane Austen.  Sadly, she died  in 2003.   These short stories draw on the same wellspring as her longer works,  capturing the broad sweep of individual lives through the almost pointillist rendering of small details.

The stories I most enjoyed here were about the act of writing, and biography in particular. ‘Mrs Turner Cutting the Grass’ is about an ordinary woman, living an unexceptional life, oblivious that she was the butt of a satirical poem that cemented the academic reputation of a professor of literature. Another story ‘Edith-Esther’ is about a writer resisting the shaping of her life-story by her biographer.

But there are stories about other things as well- several stories about mortality (made more poignant by the author’s early death from cancer), and a sad story, ‘Fragility’ about grieving parents looking for a new house after their disabled adult son has died.  The stories are not always told by a female narrator, but the narrative voice is similar across them- an educated, mature, self-deprecating, sensitive voice- someone you’d want to spend time with.

I loved these stories.  She has a way of capturing a shard of reality, and she can sweep across years and decades effortlessly.  She’s such a skilled, human writer.

Rating: 8.5/10

Read because: I’ve enjoyed her longer works; she’s Canadian and I’m on a Canadian reading kick at the moment, and I’m sometimes too tired to read anything too heavy at night.