Review: UNLESS by Carol Shields

Fear of the unknown suddenly plays a significant part in Reta Winters’s life as she struggles to cope with her eldest daughter’s odd behaviour. This nineteen year old woman, Norah, abandons her life – university and her boyfriend as well as her parents and two sisters to sit on a street corner in downtown Toronto begging. She wears a sign around her neck with the word ‘goodness’ written on it. No one in Norah’s family, including her boyfriend, knows why she is doing this. They try to talk to her and Reta does attempt to forcibly remove Norah from her perch, and fails miserably when her daughter begins screaming. Reta, in dismay and embarrassment, flees in her car, alone.

Reta’s ruminations on her daughter’s behaviour causes her to reflect on her own experiences dealing with the male-dominated book publishing world. She sees in Norah’s stance an acting out of her own frustrations in dealing with a society that relegates women to an afterthought. As Reta and her family try to carry on their day to day activities in view of Norah’s self-placement in society, Reta undertakes a series of letters to various male writers for columns, reviews and in one case, an obituary, thereby soothing herself for the wrongs she is feeling. She never mails the letters and in fact, signs them with a variety of pseudonyms, signaling her intentions not to send them out.

This is not a book for someone who enjoys fast-paced reads but it is definitely thought-provoking.


Anonymous said...

This sounds very interesting - is it a true story?

Myckyee on February 5, 2009 at 4:46 PM said...

It sounds like it could be a true story but it isn't. Thanks for your comment!

Jaydit on February 7, 2009 at 4:37 PM said...

i was just trolling through My blog when i saw that you mentioned this book...i read UNLESS shortly before/sfter i read AMERICAN PASTORAL by Philip Roth..both of which deal with "Daughters in Peril"

i don't know what else to say...both books are Heartbreakers/Eyeopeners...i am a NumNum


avisannschild on February 18, 2009 at 10:20 AM said...

When I was reading other reviews of Good to a Fault (which I just reviewed), I came across one that compared it to this book. The review was suggesting that both these books deal with the theme of goodness and what it means to be good in today's society (or something along those lines). I may have to give this one a try!


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