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This review is taken from PN Review 65, Volume 15 Number 3, January - February 1989.

PROVINCES Carol Shields, Various Miracles (Stoddart) pb.
Neil Bissoondath, Digging up the Mountains (Macmillan of Canada) pb. (Prices not known.)
Keri Hulme, The Windeater: Te Kawiju (Hodder & Stoughton) £10.95

Canadian novelist and dramatist Carol Shields, now in her early fifties, is still less well known than her country-women 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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