Carol Shields: The Arts of a Writing Life

By Dilks, Kathy | British Journal of Canadian Studies, May 2004 | Go to article overview
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Carol Shields: The Arts of a Writing Life


Dilks, Kathy, British Journal of Canadian Studies


Neil K. Besner (ed.), Carol Shields: The Arts of a Writing Life (Winnipeg: Prairie Fire Press, 2003), 270pp. Paper. $18.95. ISBN 0-9731-6080-2.

This collection, published in the spring of 2003, proves a fitting tribute to the Canadian writer who died some months later, on 16 July. The book draws together twenty responses to Shields - as woman, as fiction writer and as poet, playwright and biographer - and is edited and introduced by Neil Besner, with a conclusion, 'About Writing', by Shields. Several articles originate from the special Shields edition of Prairie Fire (16.1, Spring 1995), and many are more recent. Dave Williamson reviews the first seven books, noting their mercurial form, backed up by meticulous research. Wendy Roy applauds the bold articulation of concerns about women's silencing in Shields's final novel, Unless. Leona Gom examines changing flower/stone imagery in The Stone Diaries, and Deborah Schnitzer twins the book's artful photographs with its deliberate blurring of fiction and autobiography. Of the remaining novels, Brian Johnson engages with issues of appropriation and exclusion in Swann: A Mystery, while Perry Nodelman expresses mixed feelings about Winnipeg's metamorphosis in The Republic of Love, and Warren Cariou revisits the mazes of Larry's Party - exits back to entrances now - to revise his view of its hero.

Only three short stories (from two of the three collections) feature, yet something of Shields's ineffable extra-dimensionality is glimpsed through Simone Vauthier and Marta Dvorak's rigorous analyses of the title stories from Various Miracles and Dressing Up for the Carnival, and again in Clara Thomas's unearthing of Petrarchan economy in 'Mrs Turner Cutting the Grass' (Miracles).

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