The Collected Stories


595 pages
ISBN 0-385-31326-5
DDC C813'.54





Reviewed by Naomi Brun

Naomi Brun is a freelance writer and a book reviewer for The Hamilton


For Carol Shields, storymaking was as essential as breathing or eating.
She dubbed it “narrative hunger,” and claimed it to be a universal
need. Very few satisfy this desire by writing fiction; she declared that
most people fuse simpler tales out of the bits and pieces of their own
lives. “Let me tell you about my day…,” in Shields’s view, would
be as valid an attempt at filling the narrative void as the creation of
any finely crafted short story. It all comes down to narrative hunger,
and to borrow a phrase from Alexander McCall Smith, the majority of us
feed the hunger from “the cupboard full of life.”

Shields’s fiction, indeed, teems with life—and cupboards, and
ironing boards, and trips to the grocery store. Domesticity is the stuff
of life, and she often raided its cupboard for material. The Collected
Stories illustrates her approach quite nicely. A woman gives a copy of
her favourite book to a friend in need. A couple try to find the perfect
house in a new city. A mother goes to shop after shop until she finds a
scarf that looks as if it was made for her daughter. These everyday
items—a book, a house, a scarf—serve as gateways to the deeper
stories of her characters’ lives, for the book opens a heart to love,
the house is a hopeful attempt at a new start, and the scarf, so
painstakingly sought, is given away casually to a grasping friend.

Readers will be particularly interested in “Segue,” Shields’s
previously unpublished story. It tells the tale of Max and Jane, married
for 40 years. Max and Jane both write, but in different forms—Max
writes novels and Jane writes sonnets. The contrast of bigness and
smallness, made sharper by their respective genders, has defined their
marriage. Max is the great man, Jane the supportive wife. Max occupies
himself with important ideas, and Jane occupies herself with making
conversation. Shields leads Jane on a journey handled with sensitivity
and brilliance, and devoted fans will not be disappointed.


Shields, Carol., “The Collected Stories,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed April 16, 2024,