Thursday, July 04, 2013


Unless is the last book by Carol Shields, who died of breast cancer 6 months after if was published. The author writes what I myself have felt but have never put into words. It's not the specifics of the plot or the details of the characters, but I look at the words on the page and parts of my life look back. It's disconcerting. I find this a powerful book, and I'm sure I'll be re-reading it.

from the back of the book:
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. says,
“Unless” is this writer’s way of rooting around in her life and her life’s work, querying, however obliquely, the choices she made and the culture that shaped them, contemplating a dynamic that isn’t as simple as brute oppression, but remains achingly unfair: What does it mean to be “great”? Anything at all? Perhaps not, and perhaps something worth making a fuss about at the very least.
The Guardian calls Shields "elegist of the everyday." January Magazine says it "brims with all that is human, the hell-bent good intentions, the brokenness, the stumbling imperfection, and the gallant struggle towards anything even resembling the light". Kirkus Reviews calls it "a tale about existential disarray that’s spiked with feminist outrage and leavened with womanly wit."

There's a reading group guide here.


  1. As the fireworks continue in my neighborhood, I thought I would stop by to wish you a very happy Independence Day.

    That book sounds very dark. It also sounds read-worthy. Unfortunately, I can't relate to it, except maybe the feminism.

    1. hope you had a happy 4th! our neighbors started fireworks on the 2nd, i think.

      I could relate to the question of how the choices we make shape our lives and the question of how well can we know and understand the actions of others, even the others closest to us. and, yes, the feminism.