Saturday, March 26, 2011

BOOK: Various Miracles by Carol Shields

Various Miracles by Carol Shields, 201 pages (published in 1985)

Canadian Book Challenge 4

The first of the twenty-one short stories sets the tone for the rest of the book. "Various Miracles" is a series of images of people having small miracles occurring in their lives through out one year. To me they seemed more like coincidences, but then why did Shield use the word miracle? The rest of the stories are read through that veil of miracles for small events.

Most of these stories fall into the category of glimpses, or scenes in the life of a person. Character studies, or 'Scenes'  - "too fragmentary to be stories and far too immediate to be memories....they are what a life is made of, one fitting against the next like English paving-stone." p91 Several stories take the theme of one glimpse and then goes from there. 'Mrs Turner Cuts the Grass' shows all the life behind the old lady cutting the grass, very different from what the neighbours and young girls walking by making their judgments might suspect. Or the reverse as it were, of the man who builds a who life around a flitting glimpse of a life, 'Love So Flitting, Love So Fine', imagining the woman from the sign Wendy is Back! and then falling in love with her.

I was thinking as I read that I like a little bite, a little twist to my short stories (think Shirley Jackson or Stephen King) and that these were a little tame. However, in looking back, some do have a little nibble to them. 'Poaching' is about a couple who pick up hitchhikers, looking to get stories from people, stealing the part of them they unwittingly share. Or in 'Invitations' a lonely woman gets an invitation every day for a week, to increasingly better events. Or in 'Words' where oral speech is seen to contribute to the climate destruction of the world, so what if people stopped talking?

All the stories are quiet but real. The prose is easy to read, and the characters are brought to life so easily and quickly. Definitely for fans of short stories and Carol Shields.