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Pickle Me This

October 5, 2010

Lionel Shriver and Carol Shields

I never plan to read Lionel Shriver and Carol Shields, one right after another, but it keeps happening, and every time it does, it underlines to me how much their work has in common. Not tone, of course– you don’t have to tell me twice. But they’re always writing about the same things, about intimacy, domesticity, about love, and marriage and relationships. The parallels are really uncanny– I think I read The Post-Birthday World and The Republic of Love together before, and the similarities blew me away. Now I’m rereading Small Ceremonies (Shields’ first novel, and stay tuned for me singing madly about just what a fantastic novel this is) after We Need to Talk About Kevin, and though two novels might never have been more different, they share many of the same pre-occupations. As demonstrated by the following two excerpts:

“My fantasy house would be old, Victorian. If it had to be big it would be high, three stories and an attic, full of nooks and crannies whose original purpose had grown obsolete– slave quarters and tackle rooms, root cellars and smokehouses, dumbwaiters and widow’s walks. As house that was falling to bits, that dripped history as it dropped slates,that cried out for fiddly Saturday repairs to its rickety balustrade, while the fragrant waft of pies cooling on counters drifted upstairs. I’d furnish it with secondhand sofas whose floral upholstery was faded and frayed, garage-sale drapes with tasselled tiebacks, ornate mahogany sideboards with speckled looking glass. Beside the porch swing, struggling geraniums would spindle out of an old tin milking pail. No one would frame our ragged quilts or auction them off as rare early American patterns worth thousands; we’d throw them on the bed and wear them out. Like wool gathering lint, the house would seem to accommodate junk of its own accord: a bicycle with worn brake shoes and a flat tire; straight-backs whose dowel rods need regluing; an old corner cabinet of good wood but painted a hideous bright blue, which I keep saying I’m going to strip down and never do.”

“The house that I once held half-shaped in my head was old, a nook-and-cranny house with turrets and lovely sensuous lips of gingerbread, a night before Christmas house, bought for a song and priceless on today’s market. Hung with the work of Quebec weavers, an eclectic composition of Swedish and Canadiana. Tasteful but offhand. A stufy, beamed, for Martin and a workroom, sunny, for me. Studious corners where children might sit and sip their souls in pools of filtered light. A garden drunk with roses, criss-crossed with paths, moist, shady, secret.”

2 thoughts on “Lionel Shriver and Carol Shields”

  1. Liz says:

    Now I need to read them both! Thanks.:)

  2. Joanne says:

    I’m reading Shriver’s ‘So much for that’ at present having read many of her books and the exact same thoughts about the similarities to Carol Shields were going through my head.

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