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December 14, 2009

Carol Shields: Evocation and Echo

I once wrote a story in response to Carol Shields’ story “Scenes” (from Various Miracles). The story was rather niftily structured as a “prose glosa” around four lines of Shields’ story, and I fell completely in love with it. I submitted it only once for publication, however, receiving a rejection remarking upon how Shields’ prose next to my prose only made clear that I was no Carol Shields. And that was sort of devastating, of course, though it was nothing I didn’t know already.

There is something about Carol Shields, though. How her death seems to have left a conversation hanging, unfinished in the air. How impossible it seems to consider her work, and that we’ll have no more of it. And this is the reason I’ve been so eager to get my mitts on anything that’s been published about her since she died– Eleanor Wachtel’s book Random Illuminations, Blanche Howard’s letters A Memoir of Friendship. To discover more about Shields is to gain deeper access to the work she left behind. This is also the reason why I so enjoyed using her work as a starting point for my own story. And all of this not just because we don’t want her literary life to be finished, but rather because her literature is such that it never will be– begging to be reread, picked apart and put back together, toyed with, read again, examined from a different angle, a few years down the line. With Carol Shields’ signature generosity, she’s created a legacy that refuses to be left alone.

Carol Shields: Evocation and Echo is a collection of reader responses to Shields and her work. Edited by Aritha van Herk and Conny Steenman-Marcusse and published throught the Association for Canadian Studies in the Netherlands, the responses range from critical takes on Shields’ work and her feminism, to fiction and poetry using her work as a springboard. Susan Swann writes from the point of view of Mary Swann regarding Shields as her creator; one of my favourite pieces “Moving On” by Charlotte Sturgess has one of Shields’ creations reporting to a rather inspired fictional bureaucracy called the Character Complaints Office; several writers created fictional amalgams of ideas presented in Shields’ incredible collection Various Miracles, Alex Ramon advances the story of Larry Weller. Typical for a writer for whom the domestic and professional were so closely linked, two of Shields’ daughter make appearences. Friends and associates have presented eulogies, some of which were first published in newspapers around the time of Shields’ death.

As with my little prose glosa, a response to Carol Shields is a long way from Carol Shields, but these “evocations and echoes” are still very effective– her spirit is evoked in these pieces, and her work opened wider by the echoes they’ve inspired. I particularly appreciated the European focus, writers and scholars who put a different spin on Shields than I’m used to, examining her outside of the Canadian Literature context. This curious scrapbook is a tribute to the engagingness of the work of Carol Shields, and a celebration of readers and reading.

2 thoughts on “Carol Shields: Evocation and Echo”

  1. Alex Ramon says:

    Kerry: Thank you for this kind review. All of us who contributed to E&E did so in order to continue the conversation with Carol and her work – and hopefully to inspire further continuations. Glad you enjoyed the book.

  2. Kerry says:

    I enjoyed it so much, and your piece in particular. Thanks for your comment.

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