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Archive for the ‘Carol Shields’ Category

When I was in high school, there were three women who dominated conversations of Canadian Literature: Margaret Atwood, Alice Munro, and Carol Shields.  I happily read Atwood and dipped in and out of Munro’s short stories but the only thing I’d read by Shields was her slim biography of Jane Austen.  It wasn’t until the start of this year that I properly made her acquaintance when I picked up The Republic of Love by Carol Shields.

This tender and leisurely-told tale was the perfect book to start the year with.  It is spring in Winnipeg when we meet thrice-divorced Tom Avery, a radio host who is days away from turning forty, and thirty-five-year-old folklorist Fay McLeod, who is splitting up with the boyfriend she’s spent the last several year living with (just as she did the one before, and the one before that).  It takes until the half-way point of the book for the two to meet, by which point we’ve witnessed several months in each of their lives.  We’ve seen their kindness, their insecurity, their love for their families, and their longing for more love in their own lives.  They are lovely people and, like their interested friends, colleagues, and family members, you want desperately for them to both find happiness and you know they can find it with one another.

As you follow their lives and see the web of connections amongst their friends and families that could bring them together, you wait.  And then the meeting happens and it is magic, the kind of magic we all wish could happen to us and which seems mundane from the outside but life changing when it happens to you.  And Shields’ genius is that she makes it feel possible.

But a key part of Shields’ brilliance and what gives the novel its immense warmth is that Tom and Fay exist within their families and communities.  And when the power of their new love causes someone in that circle to rethink their own relationship, there are ripples that upend Fay’s world and leave her questioning everything she knows of love and commitment.

I loved every word of this.  Shields captures normal life so well that when love arrives, it feels both extraordinary and entirely natural.  It changes Tom and Fay’s lives but does not disrupt or dominate them – love settles in at the heart of things, creating a warm glow that casts from them out to those around them.  And those people around them are the key to what makes this book work so well.  The secondary characters are rich and important to Tom and Fay.  Their parents, their exes, their godparents and godchildren are all parts of their lives and therefore parts of the story.  Their fears, their reversals, their kindnesses and crises all matter.  It is a close knit and entirely recognizable world and that is all too rare to find in fiction.

For once, I’m happy that I waited to read something.  I think I would have enjoyed this if I’d read it as a teen but reading it now, as a thirty-five-year-old single woman reading about a thirty-five-year-old single woman, was perfect.  Fay’s fears and hopes are ones that I may have absorbed without reflection as a younger reader but now they resonate as familiar echoes of my own thoughts.

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