Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Rereading Unless

"There you have it: stillness and power, sadness and recognition, contradictions and irrationality. Almost, you might say, the materials of a serious book." --Carol Shields, Unless (from the last page).

I think this may be the sixth or seventh time I've reread Unless, and it was new to me all over again. This time because I read it in light of Carol Shields' interview "Ideas of Goodness" from Eleanor Wachtel's book Random Illuminations: Conversations with Carol Shields, which I received for Christmas this year. To gain insight into Shields' own intentions with her book, her understanding of it. "I like to think of this book of these four little legs: this idea of mothers and children; the idea of writers and readers...; I wanted to talk about goodness; and then I wanted to talk about men and women-- this gender issue, which interests me so much and has actually be a part of every book I've written. I think I'm always writing about this."

Four legs indeed-- as a result of the interview, I started noticing the chairs scattered throughout the text. The importance of sitting, being seated, rest. I'd never paid enough attention to this. The tricky thing about a book on many legs-- just focusing on one of them, and assuming that's all. And this book is tricky in particular-- the story contradicting the themes, encompassing so many ideas. This is not a book that puts everything neatly in place. Which is part of the reason there is so much to discover, and I look forward to doing so year after year.

I was also thinking about the idea of what fiction is supposed to do. To challenge my world view, rather than reflecting it right back at me, and whatnot. When reflection is what Unless does, it does. It is reassurance, the articulation of my strongest feelings, but I've decided that I've entitled to this. Because, you see, the world itself doesn't reflect my world view-- the very point of Unless (or one of its many very points). And so when fiction can, at the very least, I will take solace where I find it.