The Box Garden

Until events run wildly out of hand, Charleen Forrest manages to cope with the uncertainties of a failed marriage, trying to live her own life and raise a son on her frugal income. She is not unaware of the hazards: "family, banktellers, ex-husband, landladies, from bus drivers who tell her to move along, men on the make who want her to lie back and accept (this is what you need, baby), friends who feel sorry for her." Her resourcefulness is a delight; her uncanny observations and surprising irony reveal a witty, wry edge that is apt to make you laugh out loud.

Small Ceremonies and The Box Garden were published together as Duet in the UK in 2003.
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A shrewd and skillful storyteller."
- Chicago Tribune

Her sentences and subjects swerve in a matter of words from the poetic to the colloquial, uniting the dazzling and the ordinary, the domestic and the cosmic."

-Joan Barfoot, London Free Press

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[Shields] has a lot going for her: wit, perception and a gentle irony; an impeccable and uncanny ear for dialogue; and best of all, a sense of language that comes as easily as breathing."
- Saturday Night

The Box Garden is fun, it is lively, it has intelligence...What makes [Carol Shields] special, apart from her slashing wit, her generosity and her insight into the extraordinariness of ordinary life, is her formal inventiveness, at once modest and daring, like a Modernist seamstress."
- Amanda Craig, Literary Review


Charleen Forrest's husband has left her. Gone, not only from her own life, but apparently off the face of the earth. Charleen is left with his name and their marvellously uncomplicated son, Seth. She also has a fair talent for poetry, and a job on The National Botanical Journal which brings her in touch with the mysterious Brother Adam - a man with a contagious passion for silence and grass.

The Box Garden celebrates Charleen's resourcefulness, creativity and tenacity in the face of little money and few resources. Her piercing gifts of observation are wonderfully balanced with her intermittent bouts of all-too-familiar feelings of incompetence that are as tenderly observed as her gifts for love and survival.
- back cover of the 1977 print version

The novel's protagonist, Charleen Forrest, is an appealing combination of common sense and irrepressible idealism, qualities which her status as a single mother and low-paid wage earner put to frequent test. Shields doesn't exaggerate or sentimentalize these difficulties, but simply describes them in straightforward, low-key prose that brings us to the vital center of Charleen's emotional life."
- Toronto Star

Charleen not only endures but comes out stronger after one especially trying weeklong trip across Canada to attend her mother's wedding when she is confronted with more of her past than she, or the reader, expects. It's the sort of experience that should send her completely over the edge, but Charleen isn't quite as fragile as she seems. In less capable hands she'd be a caricature, her transformation contrived. But Shields makes Charleen and her experiences believable. Even more rewarding, she makes them endearing."
- Publisher's Weekly

A distinctly darker novel than its companion, trapped uneasily between farce and something more sinister, ''The Box Garden'' serves above all as an enlightening expansion of the dynamics of the McNinn family. It draws a memorable portrait of a bitter mother and her daughters, and ultimately grants both Mrs. McNinn and Charleen the prospect of happiness."    (Click here to read entire review.)
- Claire Messud, New York Times

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