Unless, Carol Shields
Random House Canada, 321 pages
At forty-three, Reta Winters has settled into a groove of happy living. She lives in a big Ontario farmhouse with her doctor husband, their three daughters, and a greedy Golden Retriever named Pet. When the girls are at school, she writes, mostly English translations of the French feminist Danielle Westerman, who was one of her professors years ago. More recently, however, she has tried her hand at writing novels and has enjoyed some critical acclaim.
And then one awful Saturday morning, Reta’s family gets a phone call. The town librarian has spotted Norah, the daughter who is away at university, sitting on a street corner in Toronto, holding a cardboard sign that says “Goodness.” Norah’s hair is matted, she is grubby, and she refuses to speak. More importantly, she refuses to come home. She has left her boyfriend, dropped out of school, and has dedicated herself to some sort of inner quest for goodness that can only be achieved by sitting on the corner of Bloor and Bathurst. Reta’s happiness is shattered, and she applies her newly broken self to understanding her troubled, searching daughter.
A celebration of language and a brilliant examination of goodness, greatness, and a woman’s place in the world, Unless continues in the tradition established by Simone de Beauvoir’s Les Belles Images.