by Sukey HowardAugust, 2002
<B>Sukey's favorite</B> <B>Unless</B> (HarperAudio, $32.95, 7.5 hours, ISBN 0060098899) is the title of Carol Shields' beautiful new novel, read in this unabridged audio by Joan Allen. It's also a word, as Shields says, used by writers to "prise open the crusted world and reveal another plane of being." Shields does just that with a light, measured touch so deft that you can actually feel a mother's love, pain and puzzlement, the solace of a long, happy marriage, a serious woman writer's concern about her place in a still-male-dominated literary culture. The mother, the author, the woman telling us about life, good and anguished, is Reta Winters, a novelist and translator who lives in Canada, the mother of three daughters and the wife of a devoted husband (much like Shields herself). But, as the book opens, her eldest daughter has left college to sit and beg on a Toronto street corner, and Reta is discovering what it means to live without the "useful monotony of happiness." Listening to Shields' wit, grace and quiet eloquence is a true audio pleasure.