Kirkus Star


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Twenty-one short stories, prose poems, and contemporary fables by Canadian Shields (Small Ceremonies, 1976) that elliptically, and successfully, suggest how mysterious ordinary life can be. Shields frequently takes the slightest of plots and digresses delicately until reaching a conclusion that, as often as not, is a poetic image rather than a resolution. The title story whimsically lists odd but ordinary miracles--four strangers on the same bus reading the same paperback (Smiley's People), for example--and then by poetic association makes its way to a Cuban-born novelist and becomes lightly metafictional. Likewise, ""Mrs. Turner Cutting the Grass"" moves from Mrs. Turner on her lawn to a poet who spies her vacationing loudly in Japan: he writes a very successful poem that is contemptuous of her, and the contrast between the poet's career and Mrs. Turner's unexceptional decency makes for an exquisite little dissertation--thoughtful, quiet, full of literary turns. The last story, ""Others,"" is the book's best (and longest): Robert and Lila, on vacation, lend 50 pounds to Nigel in England, and forever after receive grateful Christmas cards (no return address) from him and his wife Jane. Robert and Lila contrast their ordinary lives--boredom, separation--at every turn with the lives imagined from the annual Christmas messages: the story is as powerful in its way as John Cheever's ""The Enormous Radio."" The rest here is charming but a little uneven, occasionally sketchy or too clever; even so, the pieces are almost always moving, full of poetic leaps and moments of happiness or faith, whether detailing instances from a woman's life or writing about the magic of dolls. A marvelous collection: little sound or fury, but lots of significance.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1989
Publisher: Penguin