the art & craft of SMALL CEREMONIES
Updated: Mar 27, 2022
Occasionally in this blog, I'll share a bit about a book I'm reading that is particularly exceptional. The first one is the stunning Small Ceremonies, by Carol Shields. This was her first novel, published in 1995.
Small Ceremonies is, somehow, the first book I've ever read by Carol Shields. I'm a little embarrassed to admit that I avoided her because I knew my sister really loved her and so it seemed like she was 'hers' and not 'mine'. But then my sister moved across the world and gave me her Shields collection and I decided to start with the first novel and I read it almost in one sitting, went onto her second, and am now on her third and won't stop until I've read everything she wrote, as it is pure joy reading her.
The beauty of Small Ceremonies, for me, is in the ordinariness of the characters. It's a domestic novel, centred around Judith, the mother and wife in the household, whose internal life is rich, complex, and vivid. She works, takes care of her children, takes a class, makes judgements on her husband's career choices, goes to a party, gets a very bad cold... none of it is particularly adventurous or exceptional, but the care with which Judith considers the seemingly small questions of her life expands their possible reach. Shields pays such close attention to Judith's mind and home; she shows us each object there with a tenderness and clarity that makes you love them.
And Shields's sentences. Oh my goodness. Here are just a few: "Isabel we imagined as a slattern in a greasy apron, and John we pictured as a very small man with a tiny brain pickled in purest white vinegar." And "She is sensitive: hurts cling to her like tiny burrs, and she and Meredith rock back and forth between the rhythm of their misunderstandings; apology and forgiveness are their coinage." Pure pleasure; read the book!