I took a Women’s Literature class about ten years ago (oof, that’s so painful to admit), and Carol Shields was one of the discoveries for me. We read Swann, which was a revelation. Sometime later, I was in a discount bookstore, and I stumbled upon a copy of her collected short stories, which was comprised of her three collections, Various Miracles, The Orange Fish, and Dressing Up for the Carnival. It also includes a previously unpublished short story, “Segue,” which would prove to be her final piece of finished writing.
Shields writes a lot about marriage, relationship, aging, and the relationship between individual and mortality. The stories are peopled with characters who are real and very flawed. The blurb describes the collection as joyful, but I find it more appropriate to describe them as pensive. When you consider Shields’ own death from cancer, some of the later stories take on a melancholy feel (in fact, “Segue” reminds me in some ways of Barbara Pym’s A Quartet in Autumn, which also deals in mortality and the autumn of one’s life).
The anthology is incredibly diverse, though I feel it appropriate to warn you that the collections are a bit uneven in quality. A few stood out as memorable, such as “Mirrors” or Shields’ last story, “Segue.” Otherwise, I found quite a few of the stories to be unmemorable. This isn’t meant to be a negative criticism, but it did mean for me that this book would not be living at my house anymore. I’ve passed it on to a friend with instructions that she is to keep it if she likes it and pass it on if she doesn’t feel the need to keep it. This is worth reading at least once. That said, I’m going to put in my obligatory recommendation for Swann.
Cross-posted to my blog.