About this title:
The dazzling novel from Carol Shields, author of The Stone Diaries (winner of the Pulitzer prize) and Larry's Party (winner of the Orange prize). All her life, it seems to Reta Winters, she has enjoyed the useful monotony of happiness. She has a loving husband, three bright daughters and supportive friends, and is experiencing growing success as a writer and translator. Then her eldest daughter suddenly withdraws from the world, abandoning university, family and loving boyfriend to sit on a street corner, uncommunicative but for a sign around her neck bearing one word, 'GOODNESS'. The anguish of her loss leads Reta into a desperate search for the causes of her daughter's retreat. No obvious explanation appears to fit. As Reta casts her net ever wider her enquiry turns into an unflinching, often very funny examination of our society and the reasons a young woman might conclude it has no place for her. Warmth, passion and wisdom come together in this journey through the life of an unforgettable woman. Shields' remarkably supple prose yields insights and images of transcendent beauty and acuity from the stuff of small-town life. At once the discomfiting, ultimately consoling story of one family's loss and a searing portrait of life at the dawn of the twenty-first century, UNLESS is a dazzling and daring novel from the undisputed master of extraordinary fictions about so-called 'ordinary' lives.
Forty-four-year-old Reta Winters, wife, mother, writer, and translator, is living a happy life until one of her three daughters drops out of university to sit on a downtown street corner silent and cross-legged with a begging bowl in her lap and a placard round her neck that says "Goodness."The final book from Pulitzer Prize-winner Carol Shields, Unless is a candid and deeply moving novel from one of the twentieth century's most accomplished and beloved authors.
"A life is full of isolated events," writes Carol Shields near the end of Unless
, "but these events, if they are to form a coherent narrative, require odd pieces of language to link them together, little chips of grammar (mostly adverbs or prepositions) that are hard to define... words like therefore
, and not yet
." Shield's explanation for her novel's title lends meaning to this multilayered narrative in which a mother's grief over a daughter's break with the family revises her feminist outlook and pushes her craft as a writer in a new direction.
The oldest daughter of 44-year-old Reta Winters suddenly, inexplicably, drops out of college and ends up on a Toronto street corner panhandling, with a cardboard sign around her neck that reads "goodness." The quiet comforts of Reta's small-town life and the constancy of her feminist perspective sustain her hope that her daughter will snap out of this, whatever "this" is. Threaded into her family's crisis is her ongoing internal elegy on the exclusion of women from the literary canon, which she transposes to mean her daughter's exclusion from humanity. Reta wonders if her daughter has discovered, as she herself did years before, that the world is "an endless series of obstacles, an alignment of locked doors," and has chosen to pursue the one thing that doesn't require power or a voice: goodness.
In her own writing, Reta reaffirms her own sense of self, as well as her sense of humor. As her theoretical reflections on modern womanhood play counterpoint to her unwavering sense of creating a home and keeping her family together, Reta's smarts and fears form a wonderfully coherent narrative--a life worth reading about. With Unless, the inaugural title in HarperCollins's Fourth Estate imprint, Shields (author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Stone Diaries) once again asserts her place in the canon. --Emily Russin
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