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

Thursday, May 30, 2024

"Taking the Train" - A Short Story by Carol Shields- 7 Pages - included in The Short Stories of Carol Shields- 2004


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.

"Taking the Train" is the 18th story by Carol Shields I have read.  I have read this amazing story four times and still do not feel I am close to the depths of this work.  Like others or her works, the lead character has devoted much of her life to serious study.

"GWENETH MCGOWAN, THE DISRAELI SCHOLAR, was awarded the Saul Appeldorf Medal at a gala reception. She carried it home and put it in a dresser drawer under a pile of underwear. Her morale was high. Recognition in the academic world seemed assured, her rent was paid up for six months and, in addition, she had a number of good friends, some deserving of her friendship, and some not. “Dear Gweneth,” came a letter from Calgary, Alberta, where one of the deserving friends lived. “So! Now you’re famous! Well, well. Why not treat yourself to a visit—come and see me.”

First thought, why does she put the medal under her underwear?

We follow Gweneth on her visit,   to see her old friend, a widow whose husband was killed by a bear ((According to a news report in an eastern paper, the attack had been “provoked” by the ham sandwich he carried in the pocket of his jacket; such an innocent act, Gweneth had thought at the time, to carry a ham sandwich.) Her friend has a 15 year old daughter. The two long time friends begin to think about their lives long ago.

“A remarkable sky,” she said to Northie, and the two of them fell into a loop of silence that only very old friends can enter easily."

"Taking the Train", and nobody rides a train in the story, the meaning of the story is just an aspect of what makes this story so beautiful.

The Carol Shields  Literary Trust  has lots of data on her life and work.


Lisbeth said...

Sounds like an interesting story. Specially, since I just went on a train ride, and I want to go by train more in the future. I wrote about it in my latest newsletter if you are interested. You can read "Ticket on a train" here:

Buried In Print said...

An older family member used to keep valuables in an underwear drawer, presumably because a thief would be too honourable to look inside a woman's underwear drawer?!

This is such a rich story, full of possibilities. And for those who eat ham, I bet it permanently changes one's perspective on a ham sandwich.

I flagged this passage: "Being without money made her wayward, and waywardness permitted her a series of small abdications: letters, phone calls, reunions—they all went by the board. Sometimes, too, she lacked courage."

That second sentence seems like an afterthought; it's poised to be an afterthought. But it could also be the main idea. Love that.

Did you listen to the song that ends the story? I feel like the mood of it is captured there perfectly (but still so many unanswered questions).