Shields, who died in 2003, was best known for her novels (The Stone Diaries ; Unless ), though she published three collections of stories over as many decades, here elegantly gathered and introduced by fellow Canadian and friend Margaret Atwood. Appearing first is her last unpublished tale, "Segue," about an aging couple in failing health—he a famous novelist, she a writer of sonnets—who grow apart as they take "responsibility for [their] own dying bodies." The story serves as a poignant tribute. Overall, Shields's touch is gorgeously light, her tales capturing brief, evanescent moments in the busy lives of couples, mothers and lonely wives. If a few entries seem too brief or lack development, "Hazel" (from The Orange Fish ) demonstrates all the elements of Shields's mastery: an ordinary widow, perhaps too polite for her own good, finds a satisfying job as an itinerant kitchen demonstrator and discovers that her timidity and self-effacement can actually be turned to her advantage. From the same collection, the story "Collision" draws on Shields's extended travels and is set in a "small ellipsoid state in eastern Europe," where two lonely people of exotically different background and language collide on a rainy night; the story pursues a separate "biography" of each of the lovers with "every narrative scrap... equally honored." In "Edith-Esther," a story from Shields's last collection, the author prophetically portrays the eponymous protagonist, an 80-year-old novelist, as a "rare bird," pestered by her biographer for "some spiritual breeze" he can put into his book about her. She resists, but the biographer reworks her life the way he wants and in the end, to her dismay, refashions her work as uplifting—the last thing she intended it to be. Uplifting or not, this is a volume full of grace and wisdom. (Feb.)
Correction: The literary agents for Diane Chamberlain's The Bay at Midnight (Forecasts, Jan. 10) are Jennifer Rudolph Walsh and Tracy Fisher at the William Morris Agency.
Release date: 02/01/2005