THE ORANGE FISH by Carol Shields

THE ORANGE FISH

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KIRKUS REVIEW

In a follow-up to Various Miracles (1989), Canadian Shields (the novel Swarm, also 1989) offers 12 more narratives--longer, darker, and ultimately less satisfying-about women faced with the mixed blessings of midlife. There are gems here, however, and they tend to use fabulism (Shields' forte). The title story, for example, concerns a male narrator (""devoted to food, money, and sex"") and his wife, a lawyer ""deep into her thirties""; they buy a lithograph of orange fish--only ten such lithographs exist--and the various lithograph-owners meet on occasion: ""The orange fish will never grow old."" The metaphor, once established, is replicated--the orange fish is mass-produced and thereby loses its magic. The story is an exquisite little dissertation, as is ""Today is the Day,"" about a group of women who plant flowers along highways. Most of the rest of the pieces are leisurely: in ""Fuel for the Fire,"" a daughter sketches out her relationship to her father, With the portrait meditating on ""this old ability of time to overtake us."" ""Times of Sickness and Health"" are vignettes from the life of Kay that go from youthful ballet classes to present-day grief and small pleasures. ""Milk Bread Beer Ice"" is a poignant portrait of a couple driving many days from Canada to Texas. Barbara, 53, thinks of herself as a castaway and tells Peter, ""I love you but not enough."" Of the remainder, ""Hinterland,"" about a couple who go to Paris, never quite finds its rhythm, and ""Good Manners,"" a satire of a ""social arbiter"" who is finally desolate, in need of ""moments of vividness,"" hovers uneasily between tones. Not the equal of Various Miracles, then, as Shields consolidates and stretches in a slightly different (and more elegiac) direction.

Pub Date: July 1st, 1990
ISBN: 0140152822
Publisher: Viking