Wednesday, February 22, 2012

BOOK: Happenstance by Carol Shields

Happenstance is actually two book: Happenstance, published in 1980, and A Fairly Conventional Woman, published in 1982. They are two versions of the same story, The Husband's Story and the Wife's Story. Now they are published together in the same book, upside-down, so you can start with either story at the 'front' of the book.

Happenstance by Carol Shields, 195 pages

5th Canadian Book Challenge

The Husband's Story 
With his wife, Brenda, away at a convention, the reader spends the week Jack Bowman, forty-something living in the late 1970s. Nothing much happens, typical of Shields writing, and yet the time was well spent. Jack doesn't suffer great existential angst, but he does suffer a loss of faith, in himself. Jack and his friend Bernie meet every Friday for lunch, and is his closest friend, but are they close? Do men even wonder this?  Bernie, has his marriage fall apart, Jack's neighbour has a serious accident, neither of which cause Jack tremendous questioning, and his huge work project appears to be derailed. He has two teenagers - self-explanatory problems!

The Wife's Tale 
Brenda's story relates her trip to Philadelphia for a crafts convention, to display her quilts. This is the first time away from her family on her own, and her thoughts of her husband, her children, her life, and her role in her life lend her trip an unsettled feel. She is also considering an affair and spends much of the trip with a man from Vancouver.

The title drop in each story:
Brenda's story: "[Her father in law] had been 'cheated by time', he said, and she too had been cheated. Jack would call it historical accident, happenstance."
Jack's story:  "Pure happenstance had made him into a man without serious impairment or unspeakable losses."

Overall, I think Brenda seemed more unhappy than Jack. The title drop for each symbolizes for me the difference - Jack's is about a happy thing, his life has been lucky. Brenda's is not happy, and termed from Jack's perspective as well. 

Once again, Carol Shields tells the story of an ordinary person, living an ordinary, but worthwhile life. No big dramatic revelation, no horror tale, just a microscope on the life of a couple over a few days. I always like when a story is told from different perspectives, and this is a great one.