Wednesday, September 10, 2008


Happenstance, by Carol Shields, has a longer title: Two Novels in One About a Marriage in Transition. The book itself is something of a thrill - it is, literally, two novels in one book - from one side, it's the "Wife's Tale", flip it over, and you have the "Husband's Tale". Long did I flip the book, back and forth, back and forth - which to read first? I decided to start with the husband.

Both cover the same time frame - just a few days. The couple has been together for a long time - 20 years or so, and are spending a few days apart. What's interesting, is that even though the couple are apart, their thoughts often turn to the same subjects, but different interpretations. The husband is a historian, and very caught up in the small dramas of so many academics. He assumes that his wife's hobby/occupation (quilt-making) lacks the intellectuality of his own work, and even reduces her work to mere materiality (as if that's the lowest art form).

Because I read the wife's point-of-view second, there were some surprises - she's at a convention of craftspeople who argue the finer points of craftsmanship vs. art, functionality, labeling, delegation of women's work, and always with a laugh at words like, well, "craftspeople" and "craftsmanship", because the conference is composed of mostly women. Shield's descriptions of the Wife's quilts were wonderful, I really enjoyed imagining what they might look like. It's a very expressive book. Oh, and it takes place largely in Chicago, so that was fun for me.

How is it that the Canadian Shields writes so intimately about now two places that I have lived (Chicago in this book and Bloomington Indiana [of all places] in The Stone Diaries)? It's kind of amazing, right?

1 comment:

KHM said...

there you go again making me put another title on my "must read" list!