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Collected Stories

Overview

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.

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Collected Stories

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Overview

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.

Read More Show Less

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

From the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060762049
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 11/29/2005
  • Series: P.S. Series
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 632
  • Sales rank: 1,426,581
  • Product dimensions: 5.18 (w) x 7.96 (h) x 1.08 (d)

Meet the Author

Carol Shields
Carol Shields was born in Chicago and lived in Canada for most of her life. She is the author of three short story collections and eight novels, including the Pulitzer Prize — winning The Stone Diaries and Larry’s Party, winner of the Orange Prize.

Biography

Carol Shields's characters are often on the road less traveled, and the trip is never boring. She has written about a folklorist, a poet, a maze designer, a translator, even other writers -- appropriate professions in novels in which characters struggle to find their own paths in life.

Shields often focused on female characters, most notably in The Stone Diaries, her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel documenting the birth, death, and everything in between of Daisy Goodwill. Goodwill's story is told over a century, in various voices, featuring Shields's wry humor and her ability to convey what she has called "the arc of human life."

But don't pigeonhole Shields as a "women's writer." "I have directed a fair amount of energy and rather a lot of rage into that particular corner [of the] problem of men and women, particularly men and women who write and how women's novels are perceived differently from men's," Shields said in a 2001 interview. In 1997's Larry's Party, she swapped genders, writing from the perspective of a male floral designer who discovers a passion for mazes.

Unafraid to experiment with genres, Shields wrote an epistolary novel (A Celibate Season, coauthored with Blanche Howard), a sort of "literary mystery" about the posthumous discovery of a murdered poet's genius (Swann), and short stories (collected in Dressing for the Carnival and other titles). Though she often covered serious topics, she rarely did so without humor. Her novel of mid-life romance, Republic of Love, was called by The New York Times a "touching, elegantly funny, luscious work of fiction," an assessment that could be applied to the bulk of her work.

Shields changed her viewpoint yet again for Unless, but the circumstance was a tragic one. The book, which resurrects the main character from Dressing Up for the Carnival's "A Scarf," was written during the author's battle with breast cancer. "I never want to sound at all mystical about writing,'' she said in a 2002 interview, ''but this book -- it just came out." Though not touching on her own illness, Shields did what she had always done -- took her own questions and lessons, then used them to produce a story that speaks its own truth.

Shields passed away on July 16, 2003; she was 68.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Carol Ann Warner
    2. Hometown:
      Victoria, British Columbia, Canada
    1. Date of Birth:
      June 2, 1935
    2. Place of Birth:
      Oak Park, Illinois
    1. Date of Death:
      July 16, 2003
    2. Place of Death:
      Toronto, Canada

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 ...

Continues...


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.

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Table of Contents

Segue 1
Various miracles 23
Mrs. Turner cutting the grass 29
Accidents 40
Sailors lost at sea 49
Purple blooms 63
Flitting behavior 68
Pardon 82
Words 87
Poaching 94
Scenes 100
Fragility 112
The metaphor is dead - pass it on 125
A wood (with Anne Giardini) 128
Love so fleeting, love so fine 141
Dolls, dolls, dolls, dolls 148
Invitations 165
Taking the train 171
Home 178
The journal 187
Salt 192
Others 198
The orange fish 219
Chemistry 228
Hazel 248
Today is the day 271
Hinterland 277
Block out 297
Collision 314
Good manners 333
Times of sickness and health 340
Family secrets 355
Fuel for the fire 368
Milk bread beer ice 382
Dressing up for the carnival 397
A scarf 404
Weather 419
Flatties : their various forms and uses 427
Dying for love 431
Ilk 440
Stop! 447
Mirrors 450
The harp 461
Our men and women 465
Keys 473
Absence 482
Windows 486
Reportage 496
Edith-Esther 502
New music 514
Soup du Jour 524
Invention 532
Death of an artist 541
The next best kiss 547
Eros 565
Dressing down 579
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Foreword

1. Carol Shields spoke of becoming a writer because there weren’t enough books that examined women’s friendships and women’s inner lives — or, as she put it, “the kind of book I wanted to read but couldn’t find.” In what ways does Shields’s fiction bring the lives of women to the surface, or into our understanding? What sorts of female experiences does she illuminate?

2. In her novels and stories, Shields often experiments with using different voices. The Stone Diaries shifts between first-, second-, and third-person narrative; one section of Larry’s Party is recorded almost entirely in dialogue; Happenstance is a novel in two parts, one narrated by the husband, one by the wife; the stories in Various Miracles come from a wide variety of narrative standpoints. Discuss point-of-view in Shields’s works, and the importance of telling one’s own stories — as characters or in real life. Also, what is the role of the writer in telling other people’s stories for them?

3. Though she’s lauded as a writer who brought the lives of ordinary people to the page and made them extraordinary, Carol Shields took some exception to the idea in one interview: “I have never known what ‘ordinary’ people means! I don’t think I quite believe in the concept…. There’s no one who isn’t complicated, who doesn’t have areas of cowardice or courage, who isn’t incapable of some things and capable of great acts. I think everyone has that capability. Either we’re all ordinary or else none of us is ordinary.”Discuss the role of ordinary life in Shields’s fiction. How do her above views come across in her writing? Is there a respect for the everyday that you don’t see in works by other writers?

4. Shields once commented that she’d often set up the structure of a novel, determining such elements as how many chapters there would be, and how long they’d be, before she even set out to write. “I need that kind of structure,” she explained. “[S]ometimes I change it. But mostly I don’t.… I love structures, and I love making new structures for novels.” Discuss the overall structures of different novels and how they relate to the content. For example, does Larry Weller’s love of garden mazes say anything about the twenty years of his life covered by Larry’s Party? What meaning can be found in the one-word chapter titles of Unless? How does Shields use, or even undermine, the biography format in The Stone Diaries?

5. “I'm concerned about the unknowability of other people,” Shields once said. “That's why I love biography and the idea of the human life told or shown. Of course, this is why I love novels, too. In novels, you get to hear how people are thinking. That’s why I read fiction.” How does Shields expose and often celebrate the inner lives of her characters? Can you find examples of characters who aren’t really known to those around them? How do their relationships suffer, or thrive, or even just survive, in the face of such distance?

6. How does what you know about Carol Shields as a person affect your reading of her books? Are you able to separate the author from her work? Do you feel the need to? What parallels can you draw between her approach to life and those of her characters? For instance, most of her main characters are women at mid-life, and many of her characters are writers or work in other areas of book publishing (translators, editors, etc.).

7. In interviews about Larry’s Party, Carol Shields commented more than once that men were “the ultimate mystery” to her. Discuss the male characters in Shields’s fiction — both those in prominent roles, like Larry Weller in Larry’s Party or Tom Avery in The Republic of Love, and the many husbands and lovers that seem to populate the sidelines of other stories and novels. How successfully does Shields portray the world of men in her work? Are there common characteristics you can trace between books? Are some of her male characters defined by the women they love? Or is it more often the other way around?

8. Many of Carol Shields’s works explore the ways individuals interact with their communities. Some characters are defined by their loneliness, while others struggle with their responsibilities to the people around them, whether it’s their family or a larger group. Discuss the roles of family and community in Shields’s fiction.

9. Carol Shields has always been well-known for her love of language, and its slipperiness. In what ways does her writing call attention to itself as writing? Are there particular stories or novels that you find playful? Or linguistically complex?

10. Author and literary journalist James Atlas, who edited the series for which Shields wrote her Austen biography, once said about Carol Shields, “she is our Jane Austen.” Compare Shields’s fiction to that of Austen — are there common themes or techniques? What other major authors would you compare Shields to, and why? Where does her work fit into our literary canon?




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Reading Group Guide

1. Carol Shields spoke of becoming a writer because there weren’t enough books that examined women’s friendships and women’s inner lives — or, as she put it, “the kind of book I wanted to read but couldn’t find.” In what ways does Shields’s fiction bring the lives of women to the surface, or into our understanding? What sorts of female experiences does she illuminate?

2. In her novels and stories, Shields often experiments with using different voices. The Stone Diaries shifts between first-, second-, and third-person narrative; one section of Larry’s Party is recorded almost entirely in dialogue; Happenstance is a novel in two parts, one narrated by the husband, one by the wife; the stories in Various Miracles come from a wide variety of narrative standpoints. Discuss point-of-view in Shields’s works, and the importance of telling one’s own stories — as characters or in real life. Also, what is the role of the writer in telling other people’s stories for them?

3. Though she’s lauded as a writer who brought the lives of ordinary people to the page and made them extraordinary, Carol Shields took some exception to the idea in one interview: “I have never known what ‘ordinary’ people means! I don’t think I quite believe in the concept…. There’s no one who isn’t complicated, who doesn’t have areas of cowardice or courage, who isn’t incapable of some things and capable of great acts. I think everyone has that capability. Either we’re all ordinary or else none of us is ordinary.” Discuss the role of ordinary life in Shields’s fiction. How do her above views come across in her writing? Is there a respect for the everyday that you don’t see in works by other writers?

4. Shields once commented that she’d often set up the structure of a novel, determining such elements as how many chapters there would be, and how long they’d be, before she even set out to write. “I need that kind of structure,” she explained. “[S]ometimes I change it. But mostly I don’t.… I love structures, and I love making new structures for novels.” Discuss the overall structures of different novels and how they relate to the content. For example, does Larry Weller’s love of garden mazes say anything about the twenty years of his life covered by Larry’s Party? What meaning can be found in the one-word chapter titles of Unless? How does Shields use, or even undermine, the biography format in The Stone Diaries?

5. “I'm concerned about the unknowability of other people,” Shields once said. “That's why I love biography and the idea of the human life told or shown. Of course, this is why I love novels, too. In novels, you get to hear how people are thinking. That’s why I read fiction.” How does Shields expose and often celebrate the inner lives of her characters? Can you find examples of characters who aren’t really known to those around them? How do their relationships suffer, or thrive, or even just survive, in the face of such distance?

6. How does what you know about Carol Shields as a person affect your reading of her books? Are you able to separate the author from her work? Do you feel the need to? What parallels can you draw between her approach to life and those of her characters? For instance, most of her main characters are women at mid-life, and many of her characters are writers or work in other areas of book publishing (translators, editors, etc.).

7. In interviews about Larry’s Party, Carol Shields commented more than once that men were “the ultimate mystery” to her. Discuss the male characters in Shields’s fiction — both those in prominent roles, like Larry Weller in Larry’s Party or Tom Avery in The Republic of Love, and the many husbands and lovers that seem to populate the sidelines of other stories and novels. How successfully does Shields portray the world of men in her work? Are there common characteristics you can trace between books? Are some of her male characters defined by the women they love? Or is it more often the other way around?

8. Many of Carol Shields’s works explore the ways individuals interact with their communities. Some characters are defined by their loneliness, while others struggle with their responsibilities to the people around them, whether it’s their family or a larger group. Discuss the roles of family and community in Shields’s fiction.

9. Carol Shields has always been well-known for her love of language, and its slipperiness. In what ways does her writing call attention to itself as writing? Are there particular stories or novels that you find playful? Or linguistically complex?

10. Author and literary journalist James Atlas, who edited the series for which Shields wrote her Austen biography, once said about Carol Shields, “she is our Jane Austen.” Compare Shields’s fiction to that of Austen — are there common themes or techniques? What other major authors would you compare Shields to, and why? Where does her work fit into our literary canon?

From the Hardcover edition.

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