Unless — Carol Shields

This affecting story has a bit of mystery and a satisfying resolution, and some lovely writing along the way. I also quite appreciated the single-word chapter titles, which reinforce an atmosphere of uncertainty throughout.

I wasn’t really convinced by one major aspect of the plot though. The situation is that a girl drops out of college to spend her days sitting on a street corner with a sign around her neck. She clearly knows what she’s doing, but her parents don’t. But her parents’ reaction to this did not ring true for me. They talk as if she had become a hardcore drug addict or career criminal, whereas it looked to me as if she was simply suffering from a youthful combination of idealism and certainty — acute but not permanent. The parents seemed a bit ineffectual overall, as they so often are in novels featuring teenagers.

In fact, the book’s jacket blurb also paints a picture of a gritty and “harrowing” story. Maybe I missed something! 

Nevertheless, I enjoyed the writing and the story enough to seek out more Shields. Maybe I will finally read The Stone Diaries, as recommended to me about 3 decades ago. If it’s as good as Unless then it will have been worth the wait.

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