0056 | Unless ~ Carol Shields

REVIEW
Described on the back as “breathtaking… a masterpiece” I was delighted to find that a healthy cynicism of cover blurb reviews is entirely justified.

It was a bit of a muddle I thought. It’s like Shields, who died of breast cancer shortly after this was published, was trying to put all the threads of ideas she had for novels down on paper before it was too late. I didn’t find it very inspiring or memorable in any way. In fact, I wasn’t really sure what to make of it which seems similar to Heidi at Adventures in Bookland. I also agree with Chris at Book-A-Rama that it isn’t exactly a gripping read. It did focus on issues, mostly revolving around dealing with difficult family relationships and she went on and on and on about feminism, something Rohan over at Novel Readings describes far more eloquently than I’m going to here.

All (both?) of the “good” males are emasculated into bit parts, while the “bad” ones are crass and mindless bores. Women rule the roost here. While some hard core feminists might feel that’s justified (Shield’s main character Reta certainly would), I couldn’t help thinking, “Isn’t that a form of prejudice too?”

She states that the world is a place with “fifty percent participation”, a world in which women “fall into the uncoded otherness in which the power to assert ourselves and claim our lives has been displaced by a compulsion to shut down our bodies and seal our mouths.” She admits this is overstatement but the fact remains that she is commenting on how equality is still not something we have arrived at.

But I had to ask myself, wherefore do we, male or female, have the right to “assert ourselves and claim our lives?” Just what is the western fixation with this? We didn’t decide, assertively, to come into this world. Neither did we go to the expense and effort of raising ourselves. In fact, the vast majority of the bodily functions that keep us alive happen without so much as a nod in our cognitive direction. Why then should we demand so insistently that the life we have is “ours?” Beats me, but it sure seems to cause a hell of a lot of angst in the west for novelists like Shields to base their characters (themselves?) on.

OPENING LINE
It happens that I am going through a period of great unhappiness and loss just now.

WORDS
solipsistic | kilim | oneirocritic | mensch | chads | quotidian | ecru

CLOSING LINE
It is after midnight, late in the month of March.

RATING:
terrible > poor > mediocre > okay > good > very good> excellent > superb

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