I selected Unless by Carol Shields as part of my 1% Well-Read Challenge. During my 2003 novel workshop with Sharon Oard Warner in Iowa, she recommended that I read Shields, and I subsequently picked up The Stone Diaries, which I liked.
Unless is a first-person narrative told from the p.o.v. of Reta Winters, a translators of the memoirs of early feminist Danielle Westerman. Reta is working on her second novel, a followup to her surprisingly successful beach read first effort. Her new novel is a relief from the stress she feels at her eldest daughter's choice to drop out of school and life in order to sit on a sidewalk corner in Toronto wearing a sign that reads "Goodness". Reta puzzles through her own life choices as she seeks to understand her daughter's.
I was interested in the novel as a piece that is more reflective rather than scene based. The writing is meditative and sometimes funny. At times the heaviness Reta feels is almost too much to bear, but relief comes in the form of terrific, well-developed minor characters. Sheilds imagines full lives for even her most minor charachters off the page, so that when they are on the page, they are dimensional.
I came away from the novel convinced that I must bring more lightness to my own work and that I ought to write something frothy to help me bring back the fun to my writing.