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Carol Shields.

Toronto, Macmillan, c1982.
216pp, cloth, $18.95.
ISBN 0-7715-9724-X.

Grades 12 and up.
Reviewed by Joan VanSickle.

Volume 11 Number 2.
1983 March.

The main character in A Fairly Conventional Woman is a pragmatic, forty-ish wife and mother whose creative urges have found release in the craft of quilting. The grand scale on which she undertakes her hobby draws her to a convention in Philadelphia.

The quilt motif pervades but does not overpower the plot. It becomes most apparent in the character of Dorothea Thomas, a seasoned old quilter from the venerable, pioneer-rooted state of Kentucky. This woman makes story quilts in which the patchwork and applique" form cartoon-like frames for stories in her experience. Dorothea reveals to Brenda, the heroine, that stories can have many endings:

         You've got your real ending...
         the way a thing really happened...
         the ending a person's hoping for...
         the ending he's scared to death is
         going to happen. . . and the way
         it might have been if only....

For Brenda, who has reached the last stage in a stable series of inevitabilities in her life and is having to reassess her situation in context with the changes she sees around her, this old woman's perspective provides a means of refocusing.

Her brief, unexpected, and rewarding encounter with a man who has come to Philadelphia to attend a different conference offers her an opportunity to experiment and evaluate her newly adjusted convictions in a way which Dorothea Thomas would approve.

Thematically, this novel would appeal to senior students studying women in literature. As recreational reading, it is interesting and well-constructed. Some passages are of a sophisticated tone and could offend some readers. The theme of changing attitudes in a changing society is treated in an enlightened but conservative fashion.

Joan VanSickle Heaton, Sydenham H. S., Sydenham, ON.
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