Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Saturday, February 10, 2024

"Sailors Lost at Sea" - A Short Story by Carol Shields - Included in The Collected Short Stories of Carol Shields- 2004

 Today's story, "Sailors Lost at Sea" by Carol Shields, can be read in full, along with the illuminating introduction by Margaret Atwood, in the Kindle edition of The Collected Stories of Carol Shields 

"This ability to strike two such different chords at once is not only high art, it’s also the essence of Carol Shields’ writing—the iridescent, often hilarious surfaces of things, but also their ominous depths. The shimmering pleasure boat, all sails set, skimming giddily across the River Styx. Carol Shields died on July 16, 2003 at her home in Victoria, British Columbia, after a long battle with cancer. She was sixty-eight. The enormous media coverage given to her and the sadness expressed by her many readers paid tribute to the high esteem in which she was held in her own country, but her death made the news all around the world. Conscious as she was of the vagaries of fame and the element of chance in any fortune, she would have viewed that with a certain irony, but she would also have found it deeply pleasing. She knew about the darkness, but, both as an author and as a person, she held on to the light. “She was just a luminous person, and that would be important and persist even if she hadn’t written anything,” said her friend and fellow author Alice Munro." From the introduction by Margaret Atwood 

 Buried in Print, a marvelous blog I have followed for over ten years, is doing a 2024

read through of the short stories of Carol Shields.

I hope to read and post on all the stories, 63, in the collection.

In today's story, "Sailors Lost at Sea", fourteen year old Helene and her mother, from Manitoba, are staying in an ancient town in France, St. Quay. Her mother is a well known poet to whom the Canadian government has given a grant to spend a year in France writing.  

I do not plan to say much about the plot action of the stories. Their joy is in the exquisite prose and the highly interesting people who populate them.

Hélène and her mother had never intended to spend the whole of the year in St. Quay. They had planned to travel, to drift like migrants along the edges of the country. (La France has the shape of a hexagon, Hélène has been taught in the village school; this fact is repeated often, as though it carries mystical significance.) Instead of traveling, they had attached themselves like barnacles—this was how Hélène’s mother put it—to this quiet spot on the channel coast, and Hélène had enrolled in the local school. There was a very good reason for this, her mother surprised her by saying. “The only way to get the feel of the country is to become a part of it.” Of course, as Hélène now knew, and as her mother would soon discover, it was not possible at all for them to become part of the community. Everywhere they went, to the boulangerie, to the post office, everywhere, there was a rustle and a whisper that went before them, announcing, just behind the weak smiles of welcome, “Ah, les Canadiennes!” It made Hélène feel weak; she always was having to compose herself, to imagine how she must look from the outside. In St. Quay there were a number of old churches, though the largest, a church dating from the thirteenth century, had been torn down ten years earlier. It had been replaced with a brown brick building that was square and ugly like a factory, and distressingly empty, distressing, that is, to the local priest."

Something exciting does happen,to my surprise, the Mother has a romantic interest back in Manitoba and Helene gets in a scary situation.

The Carol Shields Literary Trust Website has an excellent biography


Buried In Print said...

I'm surprised how often Europe figures in these short stories, with Canadians visiting various placees for long or short periods.

Something I really enjoyed about the passage you've quoted here, is the idea that she's struck by the stress of always having to view herself from the outside.

It makes me think of the writer and the writer's position in society, as the viewer when writing but as the one being viewed when a reader takes hold of the story.

But it also makes me think of society today, and how often people become overwhelmed by the idea of their online personas, what life becomes when they forget that those personas are curated and cultivated and not really who they are.

Another favourite line I marked in this story: "Love, or something like it, was always happening to her."

Overall, I wouldn't say this is one of my favourites, but even when that's the case, there is much I find to enjoy and appreciate in her stories. I'm happy to think you are enjoying them too; thanks for reading along and discovering her quiet wisdom.

Mel u said...

Buried in Print- I love her stories, the people are readers. I do wonder a bit what the travel reflects on the attachment to Canada of the characters