Picks and Pans Review: Talking With...
When her five children were young, Carol Shields, 59, would write for an hour each day before the gang came home for lunch. The pages accumulated, and in nine months she had her first novel, Small Ceremonies. It didn't escape her that it was the same period of gestation as for a baby. For Shields—an Oak Park, Ill., native who emigrated to Canada after her 1957 marriage to Donald, dean of the engineering school at the University of Manitoba, where Shields now teaches—writing and domestic life have long been entwined. "What I've always loved about John Updike's work," says the grandmother of five, "is that he doesn't try to pretend we go through life without a domestic side to our experience. It's always right up front. And it's also true in my books."
Everybody makes much of the fact that you were 40 before you wrote your first novel. Did waiting help?
I was probably braver at 40 than I was at 22. I had a kind of faith in what I was writing, and when you're 22 you don't have that. And I was more honest about the themes that were important.
What are those themes?
I'm interested in the randomness of the world and the synchronicities that occur. Also, how we tell life stories with any truth. You've always got an unreliable narrator, so much gets enhanced, so much gets erased, so much has to be imagined.
Did you ever Imagine you'd win a Pulitzer?
It was a total surprise. I'm still stunned.
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