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Unless

Unless

Written by Carol Shields

Narrated by Joan Allen


Unless

Written by Carol Shields

Narrated by Joan Allen

ratings:
4/5 (60 ratings)
Length:
7 hours
Publisher:
Released:
Jun 6, 2006
ISBN:
9780060794231
Format:
Audiobook

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Also available as bookBook

Also available as...

Also available as bookBook

Description

For all of her days, Reta Winters has enjoyed the useful monotony of happiness: a loving family, good friends, growing success as a writer of light fiction, novels 'for summertime.' This placid existence cracks open one fearful day when her beloved oldest daughter, Norah, drops out of life 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 Carol 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.

Publisher:
Released:
Jun 6, 2006
ISBN:
9780060794231
Format:
Audiobook

Also available as...

Also available as bookBook

About the author

Carol Shields’s novels include Unless; Larry’s Party, winner of The Women’s Prize; The Stone Diaries, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and shortlisted for the Booker Prize; The Republic of Love; Happenstance; and Mary Swann. Dressing Up for the Carnivaland Various Miracles, collections of short stories, were later published as The Collected Stories. Brought up in Chicago, Shields lived in Canada from 1957 until her death in 2003.


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What people think about Unless

4.0
60 ratings / 61 Reviews
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Reader reviews

  • (4/5)
    Rounded down from 3.5 starsNovelist Reta Winters is going through a crisis because her oldest daughter is suddenly living – begging – mutely on the streets of Toronto. (Reta & her husband & two younger daughters live in Orangetown, north of TO.)Full of Shields' characteristic insight into human nature, but I just couldn't seem to become invested in Reta who actually seemed a bit neurotic to me. Beautiful writing though.
  • (4/5)
    Pretty good, conceit piles upon conceit, a writer writing about a writer writing about a writer about writing with a couple of feminist rants thrown in. Some good bon mots though.
  • (2/5)
    Not my favorite book. I admired the philosophical underpinnings and the feminist slant but found that the more I read, the less compelling it became. The plot and the characters became secondary mouthpieces to the ideas and opinions the author wished to express. The ending was not very nuanced.
  • (3/5)
    I'm not quite sure what Carol Shields was trying to achieve by this book, other than she had a few (very important, obviously) opinions she wanted to get off her chest which she tried to weave vaguely into some sort of fictional backdrop.The gist of the book is that the protagonist is an author whose eldest daughter has gone off the rails, spending her days begging on a street corner with the sign 'goodness' around her neck. I can save you a few hours of your life by letting you know that really there's not a lot more too it than that, save for a few sporadic feminist rallies and some (very important, obviously) musings about the challenges her (very clever, obviously) author protagonist is going through. Yawn. Oh, I nearly forgot the (very clever, obviously) observations (and chapter titles) on subordinate conjunctions. Because as women we are all subordinate and ruled by dependencies. Do you see? If we had beards we could scratch them thoughtfully while pondering over that at length. I think I'm done with Shields. She's too consumed with her own writerly self-importance for my taste.2.5 stars - well, I've had no problem getting over to sleep this past week.
  • (5/5)
    Unless is the story of a woman trying to raise three daughters while living on the surface of things without doing any deep dives into what she is for or against. This changes when her eldest daughter withdraws from university and takes up living on the street, refusing to explain her actions. Everyone has an opinion on why this happened, which Reta sifts through in search of her own reasoning. Shaken out of happy contentment by worry over her daughter, Reta arrives at some realizations of her own about her moral centre and what she stands for. This novel is accused of wandering about, and in terms of the variety of subject matter that Reta sorts through, that critique has some merit. But what's observable is that no matter what subject she takes up to explore, it all leads her back to her daughter's plight and there is never any escape for long. It's about the search for outlets, and the search for reasons when there are no easy answers at hand. Reta herself is an author, and Carol Shields does some good meta-bits about this that make it work. I loved the ending, even though it felt a bit convenient timing-wise. A story that moves quickly but also hides considerable depth like this is an always welcome combination.
  • (4/5)
    In this novel, 44-year-old Reta is trying to finished the sequel to a surprisingly successful light comic novel, working on translating another volume of her elderly mentor's memoirs, and trying NOT to worry about her oldest daughter. Her oldest, Norah, has dropped out of college, left her boyfriend, moved into a hostel, and spends her days panhandling on a Toronto street corner. She won't talk to her parents, she won't even talk to her sisters.It took me a long time to get into this book. It's choppy and vague, stilted and disjointed. But that is also Reta's life--worried about too many things, trying to hold it all together and support her other two teen daughters. Wondering where she and Tom went wrong, or if there is mental illness involved, or if the problems of being a woman in the world (ignored, talked over, seen as and valued as less) are just too much for Norah. Or is Reta projecting her own frustrations?
  • (4/5)
    A book about listening to the silence. Reta is a writer, a mother, a friend, and a partner to Tom. The story of Reta revolves around her oldest daughter, Norah, disappearance and migration to a street corner in Toronto as a homeless, mute person. Why is Norah silent? Why is Lois silent? Why is Danielle silent? The book is set in the 2000 but covers a wide time range for woman and feminism. The sixties, seventies are the time periods when Reta was young and growing up. She is translating for an author who is a feminist prior to the sixties. The daughters are of next generation of females. The plot is perhaps a bit choppy but it is reveal by and through Reta’s thoughts, her writings and conversations that Reta has with others. This would be choppy and not linear. The reader knows right away that there is tragedy, that one daughter is missing. Then the reader finds out that after twenty some years, Reta and Tom are not married but Reta changed her name to Winter and she used to be a Summer. I think the book is purposely choppy as it is reflecting the anguish of Reta over her daughter Norah. Her inner life is revolving around the duaghter’s disappearance and ending up on a street corner with a sign that says GOODNESS. I think when life hands a person something like this, the thought life takes over. I think Reta is at first blaming self and probably always will blames self because early on she said she wished she would have “listened” when Norah came home and was trying to talk with her mother. A lot of this book is about “listening”. The epilogue by Eliot talks about hearing grass grow, squirrel hearts beat and the roar on the other side of silence. Reta silent when Gwen takes the scarf that she bought for Norah (do we let others steal from us what we need to give to our children), the silence of Danielle about her early childhood (Reta never asks), the fact that the new editor never listens to Reta and is always cutting her off. So I think the book is about writing, relationships, feminism’s but it is most about silence. The silence of writing (that quiet activity filled with so much noise), the silence of relationships (holding hands walking, sitting beside), the silence of unsent letters, the silence of women being constantly omitted or talked over. Love Shield’s writing.The characters were interesting, some are fleshed out well, others are slowly fleshed out and in Shields’ writing about Reta writing about Alicia and Roman we gain insight into how a author goes about developing their characters and how Shields herself develops her characters. I attended a meet the author event at my local library and the author talked about character development, and it fit so well with what was written here. Achievement; while this book was good. It was nominated and made finalists but did not win any significant awards. The author is the winner of the Pulitzer. The style of this book was stream of conscious, epistolary, conversations with others but mostly through Reta’s inner thoughts and her point of view. I enjoyed the style. I found the book to be readable. It wasn’t slow and it wasn’t agony to pick it up yet it was like listening to grass grow. Wonderful if you stop to enjoy the process.
  • (5/5)
    This was Shields' last novel, a wonderfully clever, witty, complicated book about what it's like when one absolutely major thing in your life has gone seriously and inexplicably wrong, but everything else seems to be just fine. And about belonging to a gender that's continually overlooked by people of the other gender, and about being a writer trying to write about writing, and about how it's OK for women to interrupt each other but not for men to interrupt women, and about imaginary letters of complaint, and about what happens if you're afraid to ask the obvious question and try to explain things out of your own imagination, and about many other things.Such a shame that Shields' career as a novelist was cut short so early.
  • (3/5)
    A pleasant story.
  • (4/5)
    I hated to rate this book so low because Carol Shields writes exquisitely, and she writes about such important issues. But the book just dragged for me. I wanted to see it through to its end so I sped read most of it, slowing for portions that were just too good to rush. Her story was poignant, important and thought provoking, it just couldn't hold my attention in such long stretches of musing. I'm sure it's more of a reflection on my short attention span than it is on her book, but nonetheless I couldn't rate it the same as I would a book that I love dearly, even if her work deserves it, if that makes sense.
  • (5/5)
    I tend to keep my hands off books with any version of the following back cover sales text: [main character] has all reasons to be happy, but.../then one day... Why do they keep doing this? Anyway, that is a different story, and - luckily, this one I did not keep my hands off.At first sight very simple, but at the same time a complex book of an immensely skillful author who managed to put some very important, very large topics in the least suspected places.The humor, the wisdom and the depth of the understanding for certain human treats is felt throughout the book, and I feel somehow honored to have read it, and that it has given me as much: I am happy to be a person who is able to hear what Carol Shields had to say. I only found out about this being her last work from one of the reviews here, and, knowing this, makes me look at the book slightly differently now. Still, I am glad I read it in a "neutral" state, without that information on the author (who was writing about the author who was writing about an author... ). One passage in the book spoke to me with the loudest voice, on pgs. 148/99 of my copy, where she is writing about the child going through the world unknowingly, confused and hesitantly looking for answers from adults who react as if they have always known everything, and who have apparently forgotten or have never known the unbelievable wonder of the world around them, so this adds to confusion. Their reactions to the child's comments vary from mildly amused to overhearing or ignoring. Their behavior implies to the child that it should know the answers already and makes the child feel ashamed and left out. This is an insight which is terribly important, and I have never read about it before in a book, or anywhere, not like this. I have certainly felt it, like all of us did, if we can or care to remember. Here are a few more quotes:Pg. 106: I'm not interested, the way some people are, in being sad. I've had a look and there's nothing down that road.Pg. 115 (invented quote): Goodness but not greatness. (what women are reduced to)Pg. 158 (of children): Three quarters of their weight is memory at this point. I have no idea what they'll discard or what they'll decide to retain and embellish, and I have no certainty, either, of their ability to make sustaining choices.Pg. 184 (of husband): We live in each other's shelter: we fit.Pg. 188 (of characters in the book): They yearn - and this is what I can't get my word processor to accept - to be fond of each other, to be charitable, to be mild and merciful. To be barefootedly beautiful in each other's eyes.Pg. 218 (of daughter/all women, invented quote): Subversion of society is possible for a mere few; inversion is more commonly the tactic for the powerless, a retreat from society that borders on the catatonic.Pg. 220 (of daughter/all women): What she sees is an endless series of obstacles, an alignment of locked doors.
  • (5/5)
    Wonderful book.
  • (4/5)
    By Pulitzer winner. Looks as women's powerlessness: goodness (women) vs. greatness (men).
  • (4/5)
    The theme of this novel is quite a simple one- narrator Reta Summers is a writer, fluctuating between translations of the learned works of a French-speaking authoress and her own romantic fiction. With a long term partner and three children, her life would appear content- except that her eldest daughter- for no apparent reason- has 'dropped out', begging in the street and sleeping in a hostel.And so Reta takes us through her life; family, meeting with friends, work- always set against the impotent sadness of a mother unable to connect with her child. And she imagines...the side-lining of women in every aspect of society, which must, she feels, have caused Norah's rejection of her life.It was highly readable, with very incisive thoughts on life. I particularly loved "We have to live inside the history we're given, but must resist, like radicals, being made into mere creatures of a mere era."
  • (5/5)
    I read the Pulitzer-winning THE STONE DIARIES years ago and MARY SWANN just last year, so UNLESS (2002) is the third Carol Shields novel I've had the pleasure of reading. It was also her last, as, sadly, she died the following year.UNLESS is an eloquent testament to the awful predicament of women as perpetual second class citizens in every culture, even in modern day Canada, where this Shields story is set. Protagonist Reta Winters, a doctor's wife and mother of three teenage girls, is a moderately successful novelist and translator whose eldest daughter, Norah, has suddenly dropped out of college and left her boyfriend, and now sits on a Toronto street corner every day with a begging bowl and a simply scrawled sign around her neck saying, GOODNESS. Reta is devastated and deeply disturbed by this and struggles to understand, even as she continues to go through the motions of everyday life, including working on her second novel, which itself takes a turn away from the light, comic romance it had been. She begins to see signs everywhere of how women's accomplishments - "... have been impeded by their generative responsibility ... Women were busy bearing children ... it comes down to biology and destiny. Women have been hampered by their biology." In trying to understand why her daughter has shut down, Reta comes to see, to believe - "... that the world is split in two, between those who are handed power at birth, at gestation ... and those like Norah ... like me, like all of us, who 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 and be as nothing ... That's the problem."In fact, UNLESS, is every bit as powerful a statement of how women have been subjugated by men as is THE HANDMAID'S TALE, by Margaret Atwood (who is even mentioned briefly). There is also a rather tongue-in-cheek nod to the importance of writing, that "writerly impulse," or - " ... a life spent affixing small words to large, empty pages ... This matters, the remaking of an untenable world through the nib of a pen; it matters so much I can't stop doing it. "It would be too easy to simply file this novel alongside Atwood's under feminist fiction, and it would also be a tremendous disservice to Shields. There is just so much more to consider here. UNLESS is a complex and beautifully written novel on mothers and daughters, on marriage, on writing and the creative impulse itself. I was completely caught up in the life of this woman, Reta Winters. She was that real. My highest recommendation.- Tim Bazzett, author of the memoir, BOOKLOVER
  • (4/5)
    This is a book that I can really only categorise with that nebulous description of literary fiction. There is a story here but it is mostly character driven. There are themes of identity, loss, and feminism. Philosophy, even. In some ways it could also be looked as a teaching tool for writing. And yet it entertains as all good books should.
  • (5/5)
    No question. This is a five-star book. I don't have a systematic rating descriptor so I make it up as I go along, but I'm thinking that for me five stars means that I would be reluctant to give this book away and I'll probably have it in my "death-bed reading pile" (which assumes, probably incorrectly, that I will feel like reading when I'm on my 'death-bed'). Anyway, this book was fantastic for me, where I am now. I can't ever speak for others and I have no expertise in English literature, but I reckon this book is just so far ahead of another (although different year) Man Booker listed novel I read recently ["A Cupboard Full of Coats"] that it must have been an all-time great novel which actually beat "Unless" in the year it was listed. (I just looked it up; "Life of Pi" won that year...haven't read it so I can't make a direct comparison). "Unless" seems to have everything going for it in terms of what I look for in a novel: a serious underlying theme; moments of humour; a readable story; contemporary 'western' setting so I can easily relate to it; language which rises well above what I can write (it's easy to achieve that but sometimes I read a book and imagine that even I could have put the sentences together); a believable plot; a satisfying (although not necessarily 'all tidily wrapped up') ending; at least one likable character; emotions (mine, and written about); and not overly complicated in terms of numbers of interconnected characters or plot lines. I'm just so sad that Carol Shields has died and now I've read all her novels.
  • (1/5)
    Another book club pick that I just couldn't force myself to continue through. Maybe it didn't get a fair shot, but the book was just all over the place. It jumped around from time to time and location to location, without a rooted spot. I had no idea when the author was flashing back, or when it was present time. Maybe some people like books that aren't linear, but this one was too much to try to follow for me.
  • (4/5)
    By Pulitzer winner. Looks as women's powerlessness: goodness (women) vs. greatness (men).
  • (3/5)
    I didn't enjoy this nearly as much as Larry's Party. Though I'm close in age to the narrator, I found I related more to her troubled 19 year old daughter, perhaps because I am not a mother. Really enjoyed aspects of the book but others not so much. The "Thyme" books the narrator was writing are not to my taste and all and found the description of them to be long and boring.
  • (4/5)
    Fascinating book, focusing on a writer who is undergoing a very difficult family situation. Musings, thoughts about the past, and a gradual unfolding of the plot. Surprisingly enjoyable.
  • (4/5)
    Digital audiobook narrated by Joan AllenReta Williams is a successful author and translator, a wife, and a mother to three teenage daughters. Her oldest daughter, Norah, is a 19-year-old freshman at university, when Reta and her doctor husband, Tom, discover that Norah has apparently dropped out, and spends her days sitting on a Toronto street corner, with a signed around her neck that reads simply “Goodness.” The mystery of how and why her daughter has come to panhandling in this way is the major plot point of the novel.However, this really isn’t a plot-driven story. It’s a character study: of what it means to be a woman, a mother, a writer, a feminist. Reta is worried sick about Norah, but she is still a wife, still meets friends for lunch, does laundry, buys gifts, works on her latest book, and she writes letters (which she doesn’t send) in response to articles she reads. Yet, while Reta continues to lead her life, she cannot stop thinking and worrying about Norah. I finished this book nearly two weeks ago, but I’ve been thinking about it ever since. I simply didn’t have the words to describe how I felt about it. The best way is to quote from the novel itself: “A life is full of isolated events, but these events, if they are to form a coherent narrative, require odd pieces of language to cement them together, little chips of grammar (mostly adverbs or prepositions) that are hard to define, since they are abstractions of location or relative position, works like therefore, else, other, also, thereof, theretofore, instead, otherwise, despite, already, and not yet.....Unless, with its elegiac undertones, is a term used in logic, a word breathed by the hopeful or by writers of fiction wanting to prise open the crusted world and reveal another plane of being, which is similar in its geographical particulars and peopled by those who resemble ourselves.”This is the last book that Shields wrote, though it is the first by her that I’ve read. I cannot help but wonder how much of Reta’s internal dialogue was really Shields’. (The author died of breast cancer within a year after the novel was published.)Joan Allen performs the audiobook. She is a gifted actress, and is perfect for this work. She made Shields’ prose virtually sing.
  • (5/5)
    I came to know Shields’s writing very late, but I am a fan now and very sad she died at a relatively young age. This book reminded me a bit of Roth’s American Pastoral, but without the whining and self-aggrandizement. The narrative is about a parent looking for answers as to why her child has gone off the rails. Reta, our narrator, doesn’t wear the blame hairshirt like Roth’s parent does.The crux of the story is Norah’s behavior - is she crazy or just happy and why is it that people’s happiness has to take a form that’s acceptable to the rest of us, even if it does no harm? We see this sort of thing a lot in the severe judgement of people who live a freer life, away from the restraints of dutiful society. If we don’t envy or aspire to it, they must be nuts or shirking some kind of responsibility. The way it wrapped was very neat and I didn’t catch the hint of it even though I recognized it when it was revealed. In between internal wrangling with how to live life and accept Norah’s self-inflicted homelessness, Reta writes letters to people who have done something publicly to denigrate women or a single woman. The thing that was interesting about the device was that after the 2nd or 3rd one, I began to be a little exasperated by them; knowing that each letter was going to bring a complaint about sexism. I want to believe this was deliberate. Did Shields feel the same way over her own exclusion as a writer? Do we tire of always having to point out the fact that women are ignored, short-changed or worse? Who tires of it more, the men who are the bad guys in most scenarios, or the women who constantly have to face down this behavior? It’s an interesting point.There’s also a thread of commentary about Reta’s output as a writer and translator. Her Thyme novels sound pretty horrible though, nothing like what Shields wrote herself and I’m not sure what to make of that? Did she feel railroaded at some point? Expected to write certain books? Edited into some more acceptable form of “women’s writing?”. Here’s a great paragraph that feels almost too personal for a novel -“I too am aware of being in incestuous waters, a woman writer who is writing about a woman writer who is writing. I know perfectly well that I ought to be writing about dentists and bus drivers and manicurists and those folks who design the drainage beds for eight-lane highways. But no, I am focusing on the stirrings of the writerly impulse, or the “long littleness,” to use Frances Cornford’s phrase, of a life spent affixing small words to large, empty pages. We may pretend otherwise, but to many novelists who go to the trouble of cloaking their heroes in loose crossover garments, turning them into painters or architects, but no one’s fooled. This matters, the remaking of an untenable world through the nib of a pen; it matters so much I can’t stop doing it.”There’s more where that came from, too -“...a lash of sentimental static that was not quite elaborated into a thought.” p 34“I won’t - not now - tuck the ends of my sentences into little licks of favour…” p 20“...my two lost children, and their separate branches of selfishness.” p 76I have a feeling this book will end up on my best of 2017 list. Bold statement given it’s only February as of this writing, but when I make statements like that I’m usually right. Get thee to a Carol Shields novel, stat!
  • (4/5)
    Norah had been a good, docile baby and then she became a good, obedient little girl. Now, at nineteen, she's so brimming with goodness that she sits on a Toronto street corner...cross-legged with a begging bowl in her lap and asks nothing of the world. Nine-tenths of what she gathers she distributes at the end of the day to other street people. She wears a cardboard sign on her chest: a single word printed in black marker—GOODNESS.Reta Winters, her husband, Tom, and the two daughters still at home attempt to maintain a normal life while keeping track of Norah and trying to understand why she has voluntarily withdrawn from the world. Reta is increasingly convinced that the motivating force was Norah's realization of her powerlessness as a female. Goodness is possible, but not greatness. Reta's husband, Tom, a medical doctor, has a different theory. Reta maintains some sense of balance through her writing, perhaps because she has control over the words and characters that she doesn't have over her own life story.The Stone Diaries was my first Shields novel and this one was the second. I love the quality of her writing. I don't think she'll ever be among my favorite authors, though, unless the strong feminist theme in these novels is uncharacteristic of the rest of her work. As Reta processes what has happened to her daughter, she reflects on the powerlessness of women and the exclusion of women's voices in intellectual discourse. It's hard for me to identify with Reta because I've never felt powerless or voiceless. Maybe it comes from growing up in the South, where we have a tradition of strong women, or from the many strong Midwestern female role models in my family who were neither voiceless nor powerless even though many of them never worked outside the home.Reta is troubled by the absence of women in the literary canon. They're not absent in the canon of Southern literature – Flannery O'Connor, Carson McCullers, Eudora Welty, Margaret Mitchell, Zora Neale Hurston. Is it possible to graduate from any Southern high school without first reading Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird? The works of these authors seem to resonate with both sexes. On the other hand, Shields' feminist themes won't resonate with all women, let alone many men. By focusing so strongly on women's issues, Shields seems to place herself in the category of “great women authors” rather than the more inclusive “great authors” category.
  • (3/5)
    3.25 starsReta is an author and translator. She is married and has three teenage daughters. Norah, the oldest at 19, has just gone to university, but for some unknown reason has dropped out and stands on a corner in Toronto, begging with a sign around her neck that reads “Goodness”. The story is told from Reta's point of view and looks at how she is handling what her daughter is doing and how she is holding everything together. The story does jump a bit to some backstory, as well. It started ok, but my mind did wander at first. It seemed to turn around in the last third of the book or so, when I seemed to find it more interesting. There was also some focus on Reta's current book, which I found mildly interesting.
  • (5/5)
    I honestly loved reading this book, even though I don’t really feel anything remarkable about it. The writing was beautifully done and the characters all seemed real and honest, with their own positives and negatives that pushed them forward. You can believe that this is a story that just happened somewhere and the author (it is written in first person) is telling the tale of the events in a certain point in her life. I thought the author writing about an author writing about an author jokes were a little too much and too frequent, but that is a little misleading, since they are scattered around in the book.At times the author takes off on a little bit of a tangent, dropping the story and wandering around a certain event or location and you never quite get back to where you were. Surprisingly, I found that I enjoyed those times, though I was still wondering what was happening outside of the memory or description of a basement. Would we see the basement again? Did this memory have something to do with the plot? I never really figured all of that out. Maybe it was meant to be that way, in order to add to the reality of the situation. If there were no rambling, then you would think it a work of fiction, and this book made me wonder if it was reality many times over.Out of everything, I think what bothered me the most was the total loss to the family of a daughter who was grown enough to be on her own. This girl was in college, then left to sit on a street corner, giving up everything she had for the sake of goodness. The parents, the other children, everyone seems beside themselves with this, are occupied with going over to where the daughter is begging in the city, hounding her all the time, though they say they just sit with her and don’t really do anything. Why the obsession? In some ways it’s needed for the conclusion of the story, but mostly the emotional distress isn’t really as believable because the daughter was already gone away to school when she started doing this. To be completely honest, don’t pick up this book unless you are willing to read a book through without stopping. This mystery-that-isn’t-a-mystery is something that will sit in your mind while you are reading the life story of the main character, who is an author. As she figures out how she is going to continue your work, one thought is subtly implanted in your head: What is going on with the daughter? To find out, you’ll have to start reading.
  • (4/5)
    What a cute story! Funny story here about a bad football team that gets whipped into shape by Miss Nelson--dressed up as a mean substitute! Since I enjoy college football season, and have pulled for my college team through thick and thin, I liked this children's book!
  • (3/5)
    "Unless is the worry word of the English language. It flies like a moth around the ear, you hardly hear it, and yet everything depends on its breathy presence." Carol Shields in Unless

    Unless is a contemplative book, told from the perspective of Reta Winters, 44, a translator and writer of light novels, as she copes with, and avoids coping with, an heart-rending event. Thrown out of her placid life, she contemplates her place in the world as writer and as a woman. It is well-written and feels true to life, however, the book seems too grounded in the particular to be universal.
  • (3/5)
    Anthony's Blackboard Bear caused trouble by stealing Anthony's friends goods. Anthony was angry at first. However, when he realized that his bear did stealing, he and his bear returned the stolen goods, and therefore, Anthony was amended his bear faults, and mended the broken friedship with his friends.
  • (4/5)
    I'm still ruminating on this as I just finished it about an hour ago. The book was definitely dark, but the ending made up for it without seeming contrived or unearned. Shields has penned a fascinating character study of one woman facing a year of loss and re-evaluation. With plenty of meta (just how much of Shields is there in Reta Winters?), a book within the book, and a fluid handling of time, this is a complex and carefully constructed meditation on what it means to be a Western woman at the turn of the 21st Century. There's also a slight feel of a mystery as Reta and her husband attempt to determine what has happened (or not happened) to change their daughter so completely.

    August 2007 COTC Book Club selection.