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

Sunday, May 12, 2024

"Dolls, Dolls, Dolls, Dolls" - A Short Story by Carol Shields - 14 Pages - Included in The Short Stories of Carol Shields- 2004

"Dolls, Dolls, Dolls, Dolls" - A Short Story by Carol Shields - 14 Pages - Included in The Short Stories of Carol Shields- 2004 is the 16th short story by Carol Shields I have so far posted upon.

 This year, Buried in Print, a marvelous blog I have followed for over ten years,is doing a read through of the short stories of Carol Shields. I hope to participate fully in this event.

The more I read in the stories of Carol Shields the more grateful I am to Buried in Print for turning me on to her work. There are sixty some stories in the collection,it is my hope to read and post on them all in 2024.

"Dolls, Dolls, Dolls, Dolls" is, surprisingly enough, about dolls.

In the opening segment of the story a woman, middle-aged, reads to her barely interested husband a letter she has received from a friend of her childhood days. It concerns her visit  to a town which is the center of the manufacturing of traditional dolls.

""They were taken by air-conditioned bus to a village where ninety percent—the guide vigorously repeated this statistic—where ninety percent of all the dolls in Japan were made. “It’s a major industry here,” Roberta writes, and some of the dolls still were manufactured almost entirely by hand in a kind of cottage-industry system. One house in the village, for example, made nothing but arms and legs, another the bodies; another dressed the naked doll bodies in stiff kimonos of real silk and attached such objects as fans and birds to the tiny lacquered female fingers. Roberta’s party was brought to a small house in the middle of the village where the heads of geisha dolls were made. Just the heads and nothing else. After leaving their shoes in a small darkened foyer, they were led into a surprisingly wide, matted workroom that was cooled by slow-moving overhead fans. The air was musty from the mingled straw and dust, but the light from a row of latticed windows was softly opalescent, a distinctly mild, non-industry quality of light, clean-focused and just touched with the egg yellow of sunlight. Here in the workroom nine or ten Japanese women knelt in a circle on the floor. They nodded quickly and repeatedly in the direction of the tourists, and smiled in a half-shy, half-neighborly manner; they never stopped working for a second. The head-making operation was explained by the guide, who was a short and peppy Japanese with soft cheeks and a sharp “arfing” way of speaking English. First, he informed them, the very finest sawdust of a rare Japanese tree was taken and mixed with an equal solution of the purest rice paste. (Roberta writes that he rose up on his toes when he reached the words finest and purest as though paying tribute to the god of superlatives.) This dough-like material then was pressed into wooden molds of great antiquity (another toe-rising here) and allowed to dry very slowly over a period of days. Then it was removed and painted; ten separate and exquisitely thin coats of enamel were applied, so that the resulting form, with only an elegant nose breaking the white egg surface, arrived at the weight and feel and coolness of porcelain. The tourists—hulking, Western, flat-footed in their bare feet—watched as the tiny white doll heads were passed around".

In the second segment of the story the woman begins to think back on the importance of dolls to her childhood.

The Carol Shields Literary Trust Website has an excellent biography

1 comment:

Buried In Print said...

Haha Your opening sentence made me smile. But, on the other hand, I actually was a little surprised to find it was about dolls after all! It didn't seem very likely, did it.

This passage I flagged as one that stood out for me: "Sometimes I long for a share of her forgetfulness, her leisured shrugging acceptance of past events. My own recollections, not all happy, are relentlessly present, kept stashed away like ingots, testifying to a peculiar imprisoning, muscularity of recall."

It made me reread a couple of times and flash back to some earlier narrators.