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Collected Stories

Collected Stories

by Carol Shields

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For the first time, all of Carol Shields's remarkable short stories are gathered together in one volume. This definitive anthology contains the previously unpublished story "Segue," her last work.

In these stories Carol Shields combines the dazzling virtuosity and wise maturity that won so many readers to her prize-winning novels. With her exquisite eye for detail


For the first time, all of Carol Shields's remarkable short stories are gathered together in one volume. This definitive anthology contains the previously unpublished story "Segue," her last work.

In these stories Carol Shields combines the dazzling virtuosity and wise maturity that won so many readers to her prize-winning novels. With her exquisite eye for detail and her eagerness to explore the most fundamental of relationships and the wildest of coincidences, she illuminates the absurdities and miracles that grace all of our lives.

Playful, charming, acutely observed, and generous of spirit, this collection of stories will delight and enchant readers the world over.

Editorial Reviews

Cleveland Plain Dealer
“A revelation and a delight.”
O magazine
“Marvelous…This big, beautiful collection should win Shields the devoted readership she deserves.”
Rocky Mountain News
“Surprising, daring, and varied...Shields’ Collected Stories makes you feel more keenly the premature loss of her tremendous talent.
Boston Globe
“A joyride…One delightful turn after another.”
Seattle Times
“Full of wonder and serendipity…the stories are truly remarkable, combining great good humor with poignant observation.”
Providence Journal
“A master storyteller of complex and surprisingly nuanced life stories.”
New York Sun
“Transcendent…Shields’s stories are made of the fresh air and sunshine of comfortable daily life.”
Washington Post Book World
“A magisterial compilation... Shields has left us with an intricate literary map of human relationships.”
Charlotte Observer
“Genius…[Shields] is one of our strongest voices in literature.”
Denver Post
“Shields writes about whimsy, happenstance and serendipity, tragedies that really aren’t, and clean, cutting prose about things that really hurt…Amazing.”
Miami Herald
“Sublime...Original…Superb…These surprising, effervescent stories can only help to ensure the power of [Shields’] legacy.”
O Magazine
"Marvelous…This big, beautiful collection should win Shields the devoted readership she deserves."
new york sun
“Transcendent…Shields’s stories are made of the fresh air and sunshine of comfortable daily life.”
Ann Hulbert
Taken together, Shields's stories risk seeming like curiously weightless exercises -- lightly parodic postmodern turns. Yet this eclectic bundle of fragments also serves to highlight her novelistic gift and heft. When Shields stitches together such vivid patchworks of lives in her longer fiction, she manages to convey the inadequacy, and also the urgent necessity, of words to give us a grip on our discontinuous selves -- and a glimpse into the ultimately unknowable worlds of others. Shields's novels do tend to end happily. But they are also haunting because she has made us aware that ''the arabesque of the unfolded self'' (a very Shieldsian phrase from ''Absence'') is always a dance over an abyss.
— The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
Shields, who died in 2003, was best known for her novels (The Stone Diaries; Unless), though she published three collections of stories over as many decades, here elegantly gathered and introduced by fellow Canadian and friend Margaret Atwood. Appearing first is her last unpublished tale, "Segue," about an aging couple in failing health-he a famous novelist, she a writer of sonnets-who grow apart as they take "responsibility for [their] own dying bodies." The story serves as a poignant tribute. Overall, Shields's touch is gorgeously light, her tales capturing brief, evanescent moments in the busy lives of couples, mothers and lonely wives. If a few entries seem too brief or lack development, "Hazel" (from The Orange Fish) demonstrates all the elements of Shields's mastery: an ordinary widow, perhaps too polite for her own good, finds a satisfying job as an itinerant kitchen demonstrator and discovers that her timidity and self-effacement can actually be turned to her advantage. From the same collection, the story "Collision" draws on Shields's extended travels and is set in a "small ellipsoid state in eastern Europe," where two lonely people of exotically different background and language collide on a rainy night; the story pursues a separate "biography" of each of the lovers with "every narrative scrap... equally honored." In "Edith-Esther," a story from Shields's last collection, the author prophetically portrays the eponymous protagonist, an 80-year-old novelist, as a "rare bird," pestered by her biographer for "some spiritual breeze" he can put into his book about her. She resists, but the biographer reworks her life the way he wants and in the end, to her dismay, refashions her work as uplifting-the last thing she intended it to be. Uplifting or not, this is a volume full of grace and wisdom. (Feb.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
This author received wide notice during her lifetime, through both healthy sales and critical recognition, the latter including the Pulitzer Prize (for The Stone Diaries). This posthumous publication of her complete short fiction will be welcomed by her many readers and will provide a good introduction for those not familiar with her work. The collection opens with "Segue," the only story not published previously, in which a thoughtful woman maintains balance in the post-9/11 world by composing a sonnet every two weeks, one line per day. Writing's solaces and frustrations appear often: in the amusing "Absence," a sticky keyboard forces a writer to produce a complete piece without the letter i; in "A Scarf," a successful author learns an ironic lesson about being true to one's inner self. Many stories examine the quirks of everyday life, where mystery may lie just behind the ordinary ("Mrs. Turner Cutting the Grass," "Dolls, Dolls, Dolls, Dolls"). Others explore the seemingly minor domestic crises that can discombobulate relationships ("Accident," "Dressing Down," "Hinterland"). All depict distinctive moments in a variety of settings, with moods ranging from nostalgic to farcical. A moving introduction by Margaret Atwood honors Shields's life and writing. Recommended for most collections. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 9/15/04.]-Starr E. Smith, Fairfax Cty. P.L., VA Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The collected contents of the late (1935-2003) Canadian author's three published story volumes. Various Miracles (1985) showcases Shields's affectionate scrutiny of marital and familial experience, in deft portrayals of a woman's life understood by assembling random "Scenes," a violinist who escapes through music her family's claustrophobic embrace ("A Wood"), a lengthy friendship traced through exchanged Christmas card messages ("Others") and a house-hunting couple's willed flight from the memory of a child's death ("Fragility"). The Orange Fish (1989) focuses mostly on women's imaginative responses to quotidian dilemmas, notably in the tale of a middle-aged couple's Parisian second honeymoon ("Hinterland"), which brings them separate visions of their individual and shared vulnerability and mortality. Shields's fondness for fabulism ("The Harp") and explorations of writers' lives dominates Dressing Up for the Carnival (2000), distinguished chiefly by revelations of how significant meanings inhere in mundane things (the title piece, "Soup du Jour"), and by the comic tale of a resolute nudist ("Dressing Down"): a rich story displaying the rangy inventiveness more prominent in her popular novels (the 1995 Pulitzer Prize-winning Stone Diaries, etc.). Shields the storyteller is a somewhat lesser writer, but she's always worth reading.
From the Publisher
Segue is, as one would expect, a masterful and engaging piece of writing, and happily it works almost as well as a short story as it would have had circumstances permitted it to be the beginning of a longer, finished project…. With the arrival on the shelves of this handsomely designed and important collection, we her readers can experience once again the privilege of stepping into Carol Shields’s brilliantly rendered, many-faceted world with all its dramatic contrasts of private light and darkness.”
The Globe and Mail

“A grand gift for a true Shields fan.”
Toronto Star

“No writer in the English-speaking world has written more eloquent, witty and graceful sentences than Carol Shields…. If the purpose of fiction is to break up the frozen seas within us, as Kafka once said, spending a few days in the company of Shields’ stories allowed me to re-experience the poignancy of human life and, at the same time, its undeniable comedy, its sensuality and beauty.”
—Susan Swan in The National Post

Praise for Carol Shields's short stories:
"Carol Shields's short stories have given me happiness, not just pleasure. They're prismatic; they delight at first by the clear and simple elegance with which they are made, then there is something so bountiful and surprising, like beautiful broken lights."
—Alice Munro

"Every story in this collection is a small, glittering masterpiece."
National Post

"A radiant gift, a brilliant archive."
—Winnipeg Free Press

"Wry, witty, wise and fiercely intelligent."
—Janette Turner Hospital

"These poignant stories revel in the ordinary, with a few side-trips to the sublime."
Washington Post

"Intelligent, provocative and entertaining."
The New York Review of Books

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
P.S. Series
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
5.18(w) x 7.96(h) x 1.08(d)

Read an Excerpt

Collected Stories

By Carol Shields

HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2005 Carol Shields
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0060762047

Chapter One

Dressing Up for the Carnival

All over town people are putting on their costumes.

Tamara has flung open her closet door; just to see her standing there is to feel a squeeze of the heart. She loves her clothes. She knows her clothes. Her favorite moment of the day is this moment, standing at the closet door, still a little dizzy from her long night of tumbled sleep, biting her lip, thinking hard, moving the busy hangers along the rod, about to make up her mind.

Yes! The yellow cotton skirt with the big patch pockets and the hand detail around the hem. How fortunate to own such a skirt. And the white blouse. What a blouse! Those sleeves, that neckline with its buttoned flap, the fullness in the yoke that reminds her of the morris dancers she and her boyfriend Bruce saw at the Exhibition last year.

Next she adds her new straw belt; perfect. A string of yellow beads. Earrings of course. Her bone sandals. And bare legs, why not?

She never checks the weather before she dresses; her clothes areweather, as powerful in their sunniness as the strong, muzzy early morning light pouring into the narrow street by the bus stop, warming the combed crown of her hair and fueling her with imagination. She taps a sandaled foot lightly on the pavement waiting for the number 4 bus, no longer just Tamara, clerk-receptionist for the Youth Employment Bureau, but a woman in a yellow skirt. A passionate woman dressed in yellow. A Passionate, Vibrant Woman About To Begin I Her Day. Her Life.

Roger, aged thirty, employed by the Gas Board, is coming out of a corner grocer's carrying a mango in his left hand. He went in to buy an apple and came out with this. At the cash register he refused a bag, preferring to carry this thing, this object, in his bare hand. The price was $1.29. He's a little surprised at how heavy it is, a tight seamless leather skin enclosing soft pulp, or so he imagines. He has never bought a mango before, never eaten one, doesn't know what a mango tastes like or how it's prepared. Cooked like a squash? Sliced and sugared like a peach? He has no Intention of eating it, not now anyway, maybe never. Its weight reminds him of a first-class league ball, but larger, longer, smooth skinned, and ripely green. Mango, mango. An elliptical purse, juice-filled, curved for the palm of the human hand, his hand.

He is a man of medium height, burly, divorced, wearing an open-necked shirt, hurrying back to work alter his coffee break. But at this moment he freezes and sees himself freshly: a man carrying a mango in his left hand. Already he's accustomed to it; in fact, it's starting to feel lighter and drier, like a set of castanets ...


Excerpted from Collected Stories by Carol Shields Copyright © 2005 by Carol Shields. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Born in Oak Park, Illinois, in 1935, Carol Shields moved to Canada at the age of twenty-two, after studying at the University of Exeter in England, and then obtained her M.A. at the University of Ottawa. She started publishing poetry in her thirties, and wrote her first novel, Small Ceremonies, in 1976. Over the next three decades, Shields would become the author of over twenty books, including plays, poetry, essays, short fiction, novels, a book of criticism on Susanna Moodie and a biography of Jane Austen. Her work has been translated into twenty-two languages.

In addition to her writing, Carol Shields worked as an academic, teaching at the University of Ottawa, the University of British Columbia and the University of Manitoba. In 1996, she became chancellor of the University of Winnipeg. She lived for fifteen years in Winnipeg and often used it as a backdrop to her fiction, perhaps most notably in Republic of Love. Shields also raised five children — a son and four daughters — with her husband Don, and often spoke of juggling early motherhood with her nascent writing career. When asked in one interview whether being a mother changed her as a writer, she replied, “Oh, completely. I couldn’t have been a novelist without being a mother. It gives you a unique witness point of the growth of personality. It was a kind of biological component for me that had to come first. And my children give me this other window on the world.”

The Stone Diaries, her fictional biography of Daisy Goodwill, a woman who drifts through her life as child, wife, mother and widow, bewildered by her inability to understand any of these roles, received excellent reviews. The book won a Governor General’s Literary Award and a Pulitzer Prize, and was also shortlisted for the Booker Prize, bringing Shields an international following. Her novel Swann was made into a film (1996), as was The Republic of Love (2003; directed by Deepa Mehta). Larry’s Party, published in several countries and adapted into a musical stage play, won England’s Orange Prize, given to the best book by a woman writer in the English-speaking world. And Shields’s final novel, Unless, was shortlisted for the Booker, Orange and Giller prizes and the Governor General’s Literary Award, and won the Ethel Wilson Prize for Fiction.

Shields’s novels are shrewdly observed portrayals of everyday life. Reviewers praised her for exploring such universal themes as loneliness and lost opportunities, though she also celebrated the beauty and small rewards that are so often central to our happiness yet missing from our fiction. In an eloquent afterword to Dropped Threads, Shields says her own experience taught her that life is not a mountain to be climbed, but more like a novel with a series of chapters.

Carol Shields was always passionate about biography, both in her writing and her reading, and in 2001 she published a biography of Jane Austen. For Shields, Austen was among the greatest of novelists and served as a model: “Jane Austen has figured out the strategies of fiction for us and made them plain.” In 2002, Jane Austen won the coveted Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Non-fiction. A similar biographical impulse lay behind the two Dropped Threads anthologies Carol Shields edited with Marjorie Anderson; their contributors were encouraged to write about those experiences that women are normally not able to talk about. “Our feeling was that women are so busy protecting themselves and other people that they still feel they have to keep quiet about some subjects,” Shields explained in an interview.

Shields spoke often of redeeming the lives of people by recording them in her own works, “especially that group of women who came between the two great women's movements…. I think those women’s lives were often thought of as worthless because they only kept house and played bridge. But I think they had value.”

In 1998, Shields was diagnosed with breast cancer. Speaking on her illness, Shields once said, “It’s made me value time in a way that I suppose I hadn’t before. I’m spending my time listening, listening to what's going around, what's happening around me instead of trying to get it all down.” In 2000, Shields and her husband Don moved from Winnipeg to Victoria, where they lived until her passing on July 16, 2003, from complications of breast cancer, at age 68.

Brief Biography

Victoria, British Columbia, Canada
Date of Birth:
June 2, 1935
Date of Death:
July 16, 2003
Place of Birth:
Oak Park, Illinois
Place of Death:
Toronto, Canada
B.A., Hanover College, Indiana; M.A. (English), Ottawa University, 1975

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