This posthumous collection of short stories by Carol Shields is the definitive anthology of her work in the genre. It contains all her previously published...

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“Collected Stories”

by Carol Shields

Fourth Estate/HarperCollins,

Most Read Stories

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608 pp., $29.95

This posthumous collection of short stories by Carol Shields is the definitive anthology of her work in the genre. It contains all her previously published stories and one entirely new: “Segue,” her last work.

The stories are truly remarkable, combining great good humor with poignant observation, an exploration of the idiosyncrasies of our friends, lovers, spouses and children, and the gift of being a true storyteller. She excels in writing about the mundane: grocery shopping, ballet lessons, mowing the lawn. She also delights in the quirky, as in a young boy’s grandfather who becomes a “naturist,” or a grandmother who was North America’s Turkey Queen and wore a dress made completely of turkey feathers.

Her writing is full of wonder and serendipity: “Roger, aged thirty, employed by the Gas Board, is coming out of a corner grocer’s carrying a mango in his left hand. He went in to buy an apple and came out with this.”

Now, what will turn out to be important here: Roger’s age? His employment? Why the mango instead of the apple? And is he left-handed?

Carol Shields will sort it all out, keeping the story accessible but never trivial. Each tale here is carefully crafted, illuminating something about a person, a relationship or an event.

In “Segue,” Max and Jane begin their Sunday morning buying bread and flowers: he, an accomplished novelist; she, a writer of sonnets. They proceed to luncheon at their daughter’s house, return home to conversation, reading, roast chicken and evening reverie. Jane reflects upon her aging body: “My aging is me too, as well as the subject of my current sonnet. Only two years ago the idea of aging belonged to the whole world. It was background. I hadn’t been touched by it then. Now I am.” No doubt this passage was inspired by the ailing author’s own situation at the time.

Shields was very much at home with the novel as well. Her books include “Unless” and “The Stone Diaries,” for which she won the Pulitzer Prize. She was awarded the Orange Prize for “Larry’s Party.”

In her foreword, Margaret Atwood, who visited Shields in 2003, only two months before she died, writes: “We did not speak of her illness. She preferred to be treated as a person who was living, not one who was dying.”

This attitude of mind is reflected in the fabric of all Shields’ work, in its clarity, its acknowledgement of the absurd and in its understanding of the human condition.