cover image Various Miracles: Stories

Various Miracles: Stories

Carol Shields. Penguin Books, $12 (192pp) ISBN 978-0-14-011837-7

The 21 stories in this maddeningly uneven collection replay a single theme: people's ``obliviousness to the million invisible filaments of connection, trivial or profound, which bind them one to the other and to the small green planet they call home.'' In a terrain perhaps imitative of the magical realism charted by Borges, Calvino et al., characters--a high percentage of whom are writers--are buffeted by extravagant coincidences and impossible phenomena. Shields ( Small Ceremonies ) is an ambitious writer; she demands of herself a rich poetics and, for these pieces, the virtues of the fable or moral tale. Her efforts are undermined: an authorial omniscience comes across as smug (especially when she twits her writer-characters for self-satisfaction), her doggedly imaginative plots as overdetermined and precious. Given their very similar characters, narrative strategies and subjects, most of these stories read like practice exercises for the two or three that are fully achieved (``Scenes'' is one)--but, in light of the difficulty of her task, these successes distinguish Shields as worthy of serious attention. (Apr.)