Unless (Hardcover)

By Carol Shields

Harper, 9780007141074, 224pp.

Publication Date: May 1, 2002



I'm not interested, the way some people are, in being sad. I've had a look, and there's nothing down that road. Well now What about the ripping sound behind my eyes, the starchy tearing of fabric, end to end; what about the need I have to curl up my knees when I sleep?

For all of her life, 44 year old Reta Winters has enjoyed the useful monotony of happiness: a loving family, good friends, growing success as a writer of light 'summertime' fiction. But this placid existence is cracked wide open when her beloved eldest daughter, Norah, drops out to sit on a gritty street corner, silent but for the sign around her neck that reads 'GOODNESS.' Reta's search for what drove her daughter to such a desperate statement turns into an unflinching and surprisingly funny meditation on where we find meaning and hope.

Warmth, passion and wisdom come together in Shields' remarkably supple prose. Unless, a harrowing but ultimately consoling story of one family's anguish and healing, proves her mastery of extraordinary fictions about ordinary life.

Praise For Unless

“A raw, subtle, inspiring novel about feminism, femininity, virtue, oppression and motherhood...I was inexpressibly moved by it.”
-Rachel Cusk, Daily Telegraph (London)

“Finely detailed, thoughtful and sometimes even humorous, this book is highly recommended for all fiction collections.”
-Library Journal

“A fine book, poignant, witty, rich in character, vivid in its sense of place...surprisingly suspenseful.”
-St. Louis Post-Dispatch

“All novelists worth their fictional salt can create fine characters; Carol Shields creates lives. ”
-New York Times Book Review

“All novelists worth their fictional salt can create fine characters; Carol Shields creates lives. ”
-New York Times Book Review

“Nothing short of astonishing.”
-The New Yorker

“Shields’s novels and short stories are intensely imagined, humanely generous, beautifully sustained and impeccably detailed.”
-Publishers Weekly

“Often quietly heartbreaking...often, bitingly humorous.”
-Kirkus (starred review)

“Entirely satisfying… Shields’ voice, tender and moderated at all times, remains wise and very readable.”
-Houston Chronicle

“A superb new novel...a graceful coda, an arabesque performed over an abyss.”
-Time magazine

“A wonderful, powerful book, written in a style which combines simplicity and elegance. I found it deeply moving.”
-Joanne Harris, author of Chocolat

“A brave, profound, and quirky novel with an undercurrent of the deeply amusing.”
-Anita Shreve, author of Sea Glass

“A thing of beauty—lucidly written, artfully ordered, riddled with riddles and undergirded with dark layers of philosophical meditations.”
-Los Angeles Times

“Luminous ... Shields is a consummate master of tone and acute psychological insight.”
-Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

“Nothing short of astonishing.”
-The New Yorker

“A landmark book...yet another noteworthy addition to Shields’s impressive body of work.”
-Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Marvelously idiosyncratic, passionate and wise, Shields’ tenth novel rollicks from beginning to end with sauciness and wit.”
-Book Magazine

“Her wisdom and generosity of spirit are visible at every turn.”
-London Times (Sunday)

“Some hefty perceptions, fortunately shared with us in this fine novel.”
-Washington Post Book World

“The best of her novels...fearless, smart, funny, beautifully written.”
-New Orleans Times-Picayune

“Closely observed moments create the kind of subtle textures and elegant prose that won Ms. Shields the Pulitzer Prize.”
-Richmond Times-Dispatch

“Truly, a miracle of language and perception.”
-The Oregonian (Portland)

“Relentlessly fine...imagined with style and vigor, melancholoy and wisdom.”
-San Diego Union-Tribune

“Remarkably subtle and unsettling...one of those books that make you regret that reading is a solitary pleasure.”
-Christian Science Monitor

“With a poet’s precision, Shields dissects grief and makes coping with bad luck feel like domestic heroism.”

“A novel of...assured intelligence and defiant vivacity.”
-San Francisco Chronicle

“A superb new novel...a graceful coda, an arabesque performed over an abyss.”
-Time Magazine

“A luminous novel ...Shields writes with clarity, intelligence and generosity, finding meaning in most mundane details of home life.”
-Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

“An engaging, memorable novel.”
-Cleveland Plain Dealer

“A fitting farewell from an author revered for her graceful, insightful writing...sparkles with wry humor and elegant irony.”
-Hartford Courant

“Unless succeeds beautifully...Shields [is] an expert at illuminating the complicated dynamics of off-kilter families.”
-Atlanta Journal-Constitution

“All the trademark Shields delights are robustly present: idiosyncratic plotting; limber prose...deep compassion...tart commentary and irreverent wit.”
-Orlando Sentinel

“When Shields is good she is very good. There are nuggets of pure gold in Unless.”
-Newark Star Ledger