cover image The Orange Fish

The Orange Fish

Carol Shields. Viking Books, $17.95 (208pp) ISBN 978-0-670-83327-6

Although a variety of well-realized voices animate the 12 stories in Shields's fine collection, they are all plainspoken and direct--the hallmarks of her sturdy prose. All stories except three are set in her native Canada; most have as protagonists people locked into themselves, suffused with nostalgia, regret, incommunicable longing--and sometimes fulfilled by flashes of communication and tentative hope. In several stories, ordinary people undergo metamorphosis: in the title piece, a couple who acquires a lithograph of an orange fish is suddenly accepted into a charmed circle; in ``Chemistry'' another group is bonded in a magical way by a shared interest; ``Hazel'' is a widow who acquires job skills and confidence and expects to take control of her destiny--only to discover that ``her life is an accident and she has blundered into the heart of it.'' The most distinctive story is ``Collision,'' which hinges upon the notion that the earth's atmosphere is composed of the ``biographical debris'' of everyone who has ever lived. Shields's narrative method is suggested in one tale as ``the way a human life drains toward one revealing scene.'' The author of the accomplished novel Swann should widen her audience with these perceptive tales. (July)