Wednesday, February 16, 2011

PBG Book Club: Unless by Carol Shields

I may have mentioned that I have actually joined an official book club with a friend from work.  Each month a book is chosen by one of the members.  The person who chose the book then hosts the Book Club Party the following month.  Everyone else is in charge of bringing drinks and snacks. 

I was super excited to join a real book club and to talk about the books I read with intelligent, like minded women.  The first book that was I scheduled to read with the club was Unless by Canadian author Carol Shields.  Now, I have to be honest, I am not always a fan of the writing of Canadian authors.  I find their writing difficult to follow and too pedantic.  So, I was delighted when I first started reading Unless.

The book was a quick read, not overly concerned with the minute details and seemed focused on the story and the main character.  Unfortunately, that was the only aspect of the book that I enjoyed. 

The book is the story of Reta Winters, an author, whose nineteen year-old daughter, Norah, has suddenly dropped out of college. She now spends her days, for reasons unclear, "sitting cross-legged with a begging bowl in her lap" at Bathurst and Bloor, a busy intersection in a somewhat seedy section of downtown Toronto. A large cardboard sign hangs around her neck. On it, in black magic marker, is written a single word: GOODNESS.

The book is written from the point of view of Reta,, the mother.  We follow through her day-to-day activities as a woman whose life has been shattered by the tragedy of her daughter yet she must carry on a semi-normal life in order to support the rest of her family - her husband and two other daughters. 

I wanted very much to feel for Reta and understand her pain.  But, I felt myself far more interested in Norah's plight and wanting more information about her.  But, the reality is, this book is not about Norah, it is about Reta.  Perhaps it is because I am not a mother myself, so I can not understand the thoughts and feelings that Reta has and how she deals with them.  Sadly, I found Reta's story a little boring.  Her character seems to lack any real depth and she also had a very vague connection to her own emotions.

In the end, we do find out a little more about Norah and her situation but overall the book was not satisfying.  I wanted to know more about the family dynamics and they may have helped (or hindered) themselves during this tragedy. 

I really wanted to love this book, but unfortunately I did not.  The next selection for our Book Club is Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen and I see now there is also a movie.  I am really looking forward to this book.  I hope it doesn't disappoint. 

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