April 1, 2007
What a funny world books are, and what connections are made just by chance of choosing. I’m currently inhabiting a buzzy bliss coming off reading Carol Shields’ The Republic of Love which was just absolutely extraordinary. The buzzy bliss of actually reading it was intoxicating. This was one of the many books I first read as a teenager when I was not altogether thoughtful, and when I encounter them now I’m not quite sure what it was about books I enjoyed then, seeing as I missed the point of everything. Anyway, it was strange to read The Republic of Love on the back of The Post-Birthday World. It never occured to me how compatible they’d be, or how much Carol Shields and Lionel Shriver actually have in common. Think about it: both transplanted Americans, dealing with various labels of “women’s fiction”, and though Shields’ early career did come with some acclaim, both hit gold with their seventh novels. And The Post-Birthday World and The Republic of Love both consider those same quotidian details of intimacy and love. Women’s sexual lives feature prominently; neither author shies away from salty language. (I had forgotten how raunchy Carol Shields could get). Both writers embed their characters in careers and interests which inform the novels with a non-fictional dose of fact. The characters themselves are those “ordinary people” which Barbara Amiel figured in a 1977 review of Shields’ The Box Garden “will be the undoing of contemporary literature” (and thirty years later, I’d say undone looks pretty good). Lionel Shriver is often a difficult writer to know what to do with, but perhaps considering her in this light makes a great deal of sense.