Dressing Up for the Carnival

This collection from Carol Shields distills her wisdom, elegance, insouciant sense of humour and eroticism into twenty-two wonderful narratives. The title story sets the stage: a prologue in which the flame jumps from character to character, each of them dressed up and putting their best foot forward, conscious of costuming themselves for the carnival of life. A treasure box of surprise and contrasts.....Playful, graceful, acutely observed and general of spirit, these stories are Carol Shields at her most accomplished and appealing.

Dressing Up for the Carnival is also available in Collected Stories.

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It is the breadth of Carol Shields' human sympathy that marks her out as a special writer. That breadth is gloriously evident in Dressing Up for the Carnival. Whether she is playing the clown or offering poignant reflections on the fragility of happiness, Shields writes with a grace and lucidity that few of her contemporaries can match."
- Sunday Telegraph

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Click here to read the title short story, "Dressing Up for the Carnival".

[Shields is] a witty, whimsical, playful writer...a devious literary chameleon...Each step along the route is a surprise, and each character is a memorable creation whose keys unlock more than anyone may suspect."
- The New York Times Book

Shields is an alchemist who can somehow produce gold from the mundane.... Every story in this collection is a small, glittering masterpiece."
- National Post

Dressing Up for the Carnival reviewed by Bob Brandeis, amazon.com

In her third collection of short fiction, Dressing Up for the Carnival, Carol Shields employs two tales about clothing as structural bookends. The title story, which functions as her opening salvo, begins with a highly suggestive sentence: "All over town people are putting on their costumes." In some cases, of course, this is a literal description. Tamara, for example, dons a yellow cotton skirt without checking the weather, for "her clothes are the weather, as powerful in their sunniness as the strong, muzzy early morning light." But clearly Shields is also making a statement about identity--about the mix-and-match process of deciding who we are. Thus we get the more discreet high jinks of X, an anonymous middle-aged citizen who, sometimes, in the privacy of his own bedroom, in the embrace of happiness, waltzes about in his wife's lace-trimmed nightgown.... He lifts the blind an inch and sees the sun setting boldly behind his pear tree, its mingled coarseness and refinement giving an air of confusion.

The final story, "Dressing Down," details the friction between a hardcore nudist and his reluctant wife, and suggests very nearly the opposite moral: we are defined by the garments we remove. Elsewhere, Shields explores the questions of identity and intimacy with less of a sartorial accent. "Invention" features another fractured marriage, this one done in by the wife's invention of a steering-wheel muff ("Money began to trickle in, then became rivers of money, especially when she introduced her famous faux-leopard muff, which became the signature for all that was chic, young, adventurous, and daring"). In "Eros," surely among the most elegant stories in this elegant collection, sex is both transcendent and suffocating, an entrance into the self and every human being's cross to bear. Dressing Up for the Carnival is a witty performance in which Shields occasionally thumbs her nose at the very notion of the traditional short story (much as she tinkered with novelistic protocol in The Stone Diaries). But make no mistake: she's a serious artist, with her eye fixed firmly on the naked (or at least half-undressed) truth.
- Bob Brandeis, amazon.com

A radiant gift, a brilliant archive, a book of common prayer for those who appreciate the transcendence of all that is prosaic...this latest clutch of stories is rich with a poetic intensity seldom present in contemporary fiction today. Dressing Up for the Carnival is a book to be savoured, the kind of book a dedicated reader will place gently on the bedside table, doling out one story each night to make the book last longer."
- Winnipeg Free Press

Here's Shields doing what she does so marvellously: taking an ordinary, over-looked object and re-illuminating it, offering us a chance to meditate on ignored corners or fragments of our own lives.... There's much intelligence here and a singular inventiveness enlivened by odd passions and deft humour...dazzling and wickedly funny."
- The Globe and Mail

Dressing Up for the Carnival
from Publishers Weekly

Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Shields infuses this enigmatic and quirky collection of 22 short stories with ingenious characterizations in heartfelt tales that are mostly character sketches capturing the gestural, kinetic truths about the lives glimpsed here, with happy results. The title story begins, "All over town people are putting on their costumes" and catalogues a dozen characters finding themselves surprised by the joy they take in their accessories: two young sisters flaunt their plastic ski passes a month after their vacation; a secretary pushes a unique English pram for her boss's new baby; an old man buys daffodils for his unfriendly daughter-in-law. In a similar fly-on-the-wall style, "Dying for Love" peeks in on three women who, unlucky in love, are considering suicide, but each finds "a handrail of hope to hang onto." Unforgettable moments include the beginning of "The Harp," when the huge concert instrument falls from an overhead window and injures a passerby; the harpist then visits the victim in the hospital. "Reportage" also is memorable for an unlikely happenstance: the discovery of Roman ruins on a Manitoba farm. When tourism supplants wheat farming, it's a boon to everyone except a retired Latin teacher. Many of the stories are light and breezy but not unsatisfying, because the characters are winning even in their mostly cameo-like appearances. Already distinctive, they could evolve into such complex or intriguing Shields characters as The Stone Diaries' Daisy Stone Goodwill or Larry Weller of Larry's Party. Some tales are slighter vignettes, but all share enough whimsy, humor and wisdom to make the collection thoroughly enjoyable and, in many instances, illuminating.
(Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.)

There are few writers currently at work who display such steely control of their material, such seemingly effortless range and variety."
- Alex Clark, Guardian

Carol Shields manages in a particularly original way to turn water into wine, transfiguring the mundane with meaning.
- The Times
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