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This review is taken from PN Review 63, Volume 15 Number 1, September - October 1988.

PROVINCES Carol Shields, Various Miracles (Stoddart) pb
Neil Bissoondath, Digging up the Mountains (Macmillan of Canada) pb
Keri Hulme, The Windeater: Te Kaihau (Hodder & Stoughton) £10.95

Canadian novelist and dramatist Carol Shields, now in her early fifties, is still less well known than her countrywomen Atwood and Munro, Laurence and Gallant, but the short stories in Various Miracles have a wit, compassion and insight that place her in their company.

Often the premises of the stories are bizarre. 'Various Miracles' simply lists, in ever-deepening detail, unrelated and outrageous coincidences. In 'Words' it is established that the heating-up of the globe is due to the superabundance of spoken language, and a leading researcher wrecks his marriage by being the first to take a public-spirited vow of silence. In 'Home' the passengers on a transatlantic flight generate so intense a happiness that the plane's fuselage becomes translucent. These stories are entertaining and most clearly reveal Shields' technique of contingent anti-structure, in which exposition and resolution have equally disappeared and in their place there is a follow-your-nose aesthetic whose meandering line pursues the suggestiveness of chance.

Other stories, just as entertaining, less self-consciously map the human provinces of hope, grief, happiness, harmony and loss. 'Mrs Turner Cutting the Grass' could scarcely be improved as a portrait of a woman in late middle age who is garish and styleless but open-hearted and warm: Carol Shields exposes the shortcomings but prefers to be tolerant. In 'Sailors Lost at Sea' a girl accompanying her poet mother on a stay in France is accidentally locked into a church, and reviews her relationship with her mother. 'Fragility' shows a ...


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