THE WIFE'S STORY
'Happenstance' takes the form of two companion novels, each telling the story of the same five days in the lives of Jack and Brenda Bowman. In twenty years of marriage they have hardly ever been apart, then Brenda is invited, on the strength of her newly discovered talent as a quiltmaker, to spend a week at a craft convention. It is her first trip away from her Chicago home and, removed from familiar routines and surroundings, she feels both vulnerable and adventurous. Making new friends, fending off the amorous advances of a handsome metallurgist, and coming to terms with her celebrity status as a prizewinning craftswoman, Brenda feels things are changing fast. As the week progresses all the gathering emotions which have unsettled her life over the last few years – the sudden and inexplicable attacks of sadness and anger, the feelings of insecurity – are brought into focus.
Meanwhile, back in Chicago, Jack faces a crisis of a very different sort…
Carol Shields was born and raised in Chicago and has lived in Canada since 1957. She studied at Hanover College and the University of Ottawa. Author of six novels, including 'The Republic of Love,'which was shortlisted for the 1992 'Guardian' Fiction Prize, and 'The Stone Diaries', which was shortlisted for the 1993 Booker Prize, Carol Shields has also written three volumes of poetry and numerous short stories. She now lives in Winnipeg and spends each summer in France.
From the reviews of 'Happenstance:'
"With dazzling detfness Shields demonstrates the alienation innate in the most loving relationships… 'Happenstance' is a remarkable, perceptive and painfully accurate work that yields more with each reading."
"The beautiful irony of 'Happenstance' is that its novels are both bound together and held apart by the strength of the marriage they describe."
HARPERS & QUEEN
"Working with energetic brio, Shields organises dazzling contrasts of hilariousness and subtlety, high comedy and sombre complexity… she has constructed her work with the authentic independence of an important writer."
TIMES LITERARY SUPPLEMENT
"Carol Shields is a lucid and accessible writer. Her virtues are an instinct for the patterns of everyday speech, a willingness to ferret out psychological nuances and a gift for investing her characters with the appearance of a living, breathing reality."
THE HUSBAND'S STORY
'Happenstance' takes the form of two companion novels, each telling the story of the same five days in the lives of Jack and Brenda Bowman. In twenty years of marriage they have hardly ever been apart, then Brenda is invited, on the strength of her newly discovered talent as a quiltmaker, to spend a week at a craft convention. Jack, an unworldly, self-doubting historian, is left alone in their Chicago home to cope with their two awkward adolescent children. In the space of one extraordinary, turbulent week, Jack's world falls apart. Disturbing events hasten one upon the other – a neighbour attempts suicide, a friend's marriage breaks down, Jack's lascivious secretary suddenly starts making bizarre sexual confessions and, last but not least, Jack discovers to his horror that his major career project (an unfinished book on Native American society) is jeopardised by an identical volume written by his ex-lover.
Meanwhile, Brenda seems to be having the time of her life…
From the review of 'Happenstance':
"Carol Shields is an acute recorder of contemporary mores, the detail of her observations flawless. 'Happenstance' resounds with a humanity and a generosity that is truly memorable."
"I highly recommend 'Happenstance'. Both stories are funny – but compassionately so. Crucially, Carol Shields allows all the characters dignity. This is a tender, lovely book, about people who need each other. It is also superbly told."
"The biggest pleasure remains Shields' prose, at once dense and delicate. Her great strength is her ability to capture small moments and make them important…Shields displays in her careful delineation of her characters a tenderness for the ordinary which shines through the sheer cleverness of her work."
"A celebration of marriage as historical accident, 'Happenstance' makes a delightful portrait of partnership, full of quirky humour."