Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Fiction

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Fiction

Article excerpt

Title: Dressing Up for the Carnival

Author: Carol Shields

Data: Viking Press, 210 pages, $23.95

Reviews by Mary Sue Koeppel

This new collection of 22 stories by the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Stone Diaries and Larry's Party offers a cast of rather ordinary characters who grow quite beguiling in their quirky, little ways.

In the title story, several people begin an ordinary day and in joyous vignettes, dress for the carnival of their own daily lives. Tamara chooses her clothes and becomes, not the clerk receptionist at an employment agency, but a "passionate, vibrant woman dressed in yellow."

On an impulse, Roger buys his first mango and sees it change his "shriveled fate." An old man buys an armful of daffodils and watches his life change: Daffodils spell gaiety; he gets smiles and quick service.

In contrast, Dressing Down, a fitting title for the last story of the book, features a man who dresses down to nothing. He becomes a nudist in Canada, but only every July. (Until his retirement, he spends the other 11 months as YMCA director for eastern Canada.) "He had not expected in his life to feel a breeze pass over his nether regions . . . "

This is the untethering miracle he tried to explain to his wife. She spends years arguing with him. The description of their funerals and afterlife is a fine belly laugh.

Besides writing interesting character studies, Shields creates intriguing "what if" plots.

"What if" people were taxed by another measurement -- by the number of inches of windows in their homes? To save money, would people brick up windows, brick out light? In Windows, Shields considers deprivations people cause themselves.

In another type of piece, Shields turns to the ancient idea that earth, air, fire, and water make up the elemental universe. These four are translated by her into an Earthquake Man, a Rainfall Woman, a Fire Fellow and a Plague and Pestilence Woman.

This collection demonstrates the range of Shields' writing. …

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