Monday, October 02, 2006

Dressing Up for the Carnival by Carol Shields

I don't usually go for short story collections when I select what to read next. Maybe they remind me too much of forced readings from school (both from my days as a student and as a teacher). Or maybe I've just been confused by what was supposed to be top notch writing in upper tier publications because I didn't understand them, or what about them was considered good. Lately, though, I've found myself gravitating towards a few different authors, just to try them out. First was Alice Munroe, whose collection Runaway I enjoyed, but I gave up on whichever collection I tried to read next.

Then came Dressing Up for the Carnival. This collection of stories--truly short, with the longest story being a mere 20 pages--is easy and pleasurable to read. I particularly enjoyed Shield's playful sense of language. "Absence" was delightful, ticklish to the intellect, a story about a writer with a stuck key on her keyboard ("But after she had typed half a dozen words, she found that one of the letters on the keyboard was broken, and to make matters worse, a vowel, the very letter that attaches to the hungry self."). Shields herself doesn't use an instance of that vowel in her story.

I intend to reread Dressing Up for the Carnival, to peel away some of the skins of the stories, because I'm quite certain I will love this book all the more for a second reading, and find quite a different collection underneath than the first reading presented me with. Other stories that I look forward to re-encountering are:
  • "Ilk"--the meeting of a pair of English professors at a conference; the narrative (as a mode) is treated almost as a debatable scientific phenomenon.
  • "Windows"--a couple of artists find the recently imposed "window tax" a new challenge to their creativity.
  • "Weather"--all of the nation's weathermen go on strike, and the country suffers a subsequent lack of weather.
  • "A Scarf"--an author on tour decides to search for the perfect scarf for her daughter.
I suppose I could just list them all.

About the book, from Random House of Canada

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