Thursday, August 10, 2006

Dressing Up for the Carnival by Carol Shields

I have read all of Carol Shields' novels, and really mourned her death in 2003. Two of her books are on my list of all time favorites: her final novel Unless, and an earlier one called The Republic of Love. Consistent with my habit of NOT liking any books that win the Pulitzer Prize, The Stone Diaries was my least favorite of her novels. I felt very sad when I finished reading Unless, because it was like saying good-bye to her.

I encountered Dressing Up for the Carnival by accident one day as I was perusing the shelves at the library and was happily surprised; it was kind of like discovering that there were a few more chocolates left in the box after all. I had forgotten she had written a lot of short stories, which I had earlier scorned in my mistaken belief that I hated the format.

However, Dressing Up for the Carnival reminded me of what I don't like about short stories. Am I drifting back to my original position? They were beautifully written. But each one was very forgettable. They made sense at the time of reading, but once I walked away, I couldn't remember what any of them were about.

Must it be the goal of an author to tell a memorable story, or is it okay just to entertain the reader at the moment of reading? I felt like this collection accomplished the latter goal, but not the former. Shields is certainly capable of the former. In her novels she creates memorable characters in situations that make a lasting impression. I could tell you the plot of Unless right now. But I couldn't tell you what any of these stories were about, though it was a pleasure to read them nonetheless.

This book's grade is B.
(Book 36, 2006)


Anonymous said...

Oh, I love, love, love, Carol Shields. I've been feeling lately that it's time to read another of her books (I've been spacing them out to prolong the joy) so thank you for this suggestion. I'd been wondering about "Larry's Party" but think I will head for this book instead.
In answer to your other question, of course I think it is of value to provide "just" an enjoyable reading experience. Just because a character's name or a plot doesn't stay with you doesn't mean writing has value. I liken it to eating, really: I can't remember every single meal I've had, but I've tried very hard to appreciate all of them in the moment (and be thankful for them afterwards). Just my opinion, of course...but you asked!

Becky Holmes said...

I agree that just enjoying the experience in the moment is enough. I think what struck me most, however, was the level of difference in memorability (is that a word?) between Shields' novels and her short stories. Why was one so permanent, and other other so ephermeral? I like comparing reading experiences to food -- I wrote a post about that several months ago comparing reading romance novels to eating cake. I too space out books by favorite writers so as to extend the pleasure. I am in constant fear of running out of good things to read.

Anonymous said...

I hated Dressing Up for the Carnival ... Larry's Party is fantasic.

Becky Holmes said...

Zia, Larry's Party was good, but did you read Unless? It's really in a class by itself.

Anonymous said...

I thought Unless was definitely one of her best.

Interestingly (or not!), I liked The Stone Diaries just fine, but it wasn't one of my favorites.

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