Dressing Up for the Carnival

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9780670889211: Dressing Up for the Carnival

A new short story collection from the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Stone Diaries and Larry's Party

Carol Shields "has a knack for turning the ordinary into the extraordinary"(New York Daily News). And nowhere more than in Dressing Up for the Carnival, which distills all her elegance, wisdom, and insouciant humor into short stories that read more like nugget novels.

Through them all runs Shields's preoccupation with identity. In the title story--a compacted day in the life of the world--a procession of characters try on new selves; in "Dressing Down" a YMCA director sheds his suited self one month a year in a nudist enclave. Yet these twenty-two stories, and their quiet epiphanies, contrast with each other more sharply. The lyricism of "Weather" and the bittersweet sexuality of "Eros." The wicked skewering of pompous academic conversation in "The Next Best Kiss" and the odd, straightfaced whimsy of "Flatties." And in "The Scarf"--new for this collection--the realities of a fledgling author's book tour. Playful, graceful, acute yet tender, Dressing Up for the Carnival is Carol Shields at her most accomplished and appealing. It "reminds us again why literature matters" (The New York Times Book Review).

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Review:

In her third collection of short fiction, Dressing Up for the Carnival, Carol Shields employs two tales about clothing as structural bookends. The title story, which functions as her opening salvo, begins with a highly suggestive sentence: "All over town people are putting on their costumes." In some cases, of course, this is a literal description. Tamara, for example, dons a yellow cotton skirt without checking the weather, for "her clothes are the weather, as powerful in their sunniness as the strong, muzzy early morning light." But clearly Shields is also making a statement about identity--about the mix-and-match process of deciding who we are. Thus we get the more discreet high jinks of

X, an anonymous middle-aged citizen who, sometimes, in the privacy of his own bedroom, in the embrace of happiness, waltzes about in his wife's lace-trimmed nightgown.... He lifts the blind an inch and sees the sun setting boldly behind his pear tree, its mingled coarseness and refinement giving an air of confusion.
The final story, "Dressing Down," details the friction between a hardcore nudist and his reluctant wife, and suggests very nearly the opposite moral: we are defined by the garments we remove. Elsewhere, Shields explores the questions of identity and intimacy with less of a sartorial accent. "Invention" features another fractured marriage, this one done in by the wife's invention of a steering-wheel muff ("Money began to trickle in, then became rivers of money, especially when she introduced her famous faux-leopard muff, which became the signature for all that was chic, young, adventurous, and daring"). In "Eros," surely among the most elegant stories in this elegant collection, sex is both transcendent and suffocating, an entrance into the self and every human being's cross to bear. Dressing Up for the Carnival is a witty performance in which Shields occasionally thumbs her nose at the very notion of the traditional short story (much as she tinkered with novelistic protocol in The Stone Diaries). But make no mistake: she's a serious artist, with her eye fixed firmly on the naked (or at least half-undressed) truth. --Bob Brandeis

From the Inside Flap:

Dressing Up for the Carnival cruises through a diverse set of players at different stages of life. Like the interconnected cast of characters in the title story, most of them fortify themselves in symbolic ways to tackle the business of life. Shields observes, indulges, and shares their small secrets, injecting them with by turns with pathos, humour, and the occasional touch of irony. Playful, graceful, and acutely observed, the stories in this special audio collection are narrated by some of Canada's finest actors.

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Carol Diggory Shields
Published by The Viking Press (2000)
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