CAROL SHIELDS PUBLISHED four novels in utter obscurity in the first five decades of her life, before finding a international readership in 1987 with Swann (published as Mary Swann in the UK), and going on to win a Pulitzer Prize for The Stone Diaries and the Orange Prize for Larry's Party. Her last novel, Unless, was shortlisted for the Booker (as The Stone Diaries had also been), just before she died of breast cancer in 2003. Shields's passing has caused a kind of hagiography to grow up around her output, the most recent manifestation of which is the publication of these Collected Stories. The collection consists of three previously published volumes of short stories - Various Miracles (1985), The Orange Fish (1989, but not previously published in the UK) and Dressing Up for the Carnival (2000) - plus her last work, Segue.
As one of Shields's earliest admirers, I feel slightly uncomfortable asking if this is not inflating a reputation too far. Shields was exceptionally good at playing with the form of the novel, and around this interest, which was as much poetic as modernist, she fashioned tales of domestic ups and