Synopses & Reviews
The idea for Dropped Threads: What We Aren't Told
came up between Carol Shields and longtime friend Marjorie Anderson over lunch. It appeared that after decades of feminism, the “women's network” still wasn't able to prevent women being caught off-guard by life. There remained subjects women just didn't talk about, or felt they couldn't talk about. Holes existed in the fabric of women's discourse, and they needed examining.
They asked thirty-four women to write about moments in life that had taken them by surprise or experiences that received too little discussion, and then they compiled these pieces into a book. It became an instant number one bestseller, a book clubs' favourite and a runaway success. Dropped Threads, says Anderson, "tapped into a powerful need to share personal stories about life's defining moments of surprise and silence." Readers recognized themselves in these honest and intimate stories; there was something universal in these deeply personal accounts. Other stories and suggestions poured in. Dropped Threads would clearly be an ongoing project.
Like the first volume, Dropped Threads 2 features stories by well-known novelists and journalists such as Jane Urquhart, Susan Swan and Shelagh Rogers, but also many excellent new writers including teachers, mothers, a civil servant, a therapist. This triumphant follow-up received a starred first review in Quill and Quire magazine, which called it “compassionate and unflinching.” The book deals with such difficult topics as loss, depression, disease, widowhood, violence, and coming to terms with death. Several stories address some of the darker sides of motherhood:
- A mother describes how, while sleep-deprived and in a miserable marriage, she is shocked to find infanticide crossing her mind.
- Another woman recounts a memory of her alcoholic mother demanding the children prove their loyalty in a terrifying way.
- A woman desperate for children refers to the bleak truth as: "Another Christmas of feeling barren." Narrating the fertility treatment she undergoes, the hopes dashed, she is amusing in retrospect and yet brutally honest.
While they deal with loss and trauma, the pieces show the path to some kind of acceptance, showing the authors determination to learn from pain and pass on the wisdom gained. The volume also covers the rewards of learning to be a parent, choosing to remain single, or fitting in as a lesbian parent. It explores how women feel when something is missing in a friendship, how they experience discrimination, relationship challenges, and other emotions less easily defined but just as close to the bone:
- Alison Wearing in “My Life as a Shadow” subtly describes allowing her personality to be subsumed by her boyfriend's.
- Pamela Mala Sinha tells how, after suffering a brutal attack, she felt self-hatred and a longing for retribution.
- Dana McNairn talks of her uncomfortable marriage to a man from a different social background: "I wanted to fit in with this strange, wondrous family who never raised their voices, never swore and never threw things at one another."
Humour, a confiding tone, and beautiful writing elevate and enliven even the darkest stories. Details bring scenes vividly to life, so we feel we are in the room with Barbara Defago when the doctor tells her she has breast cancer, coolly dividing her life into a 'before and after.' Lucid, reflective and poignant, Dropped Threads 2 is for anyone interested in women's true stories.
About the Author
used to rummage in antique shops for photographs of long-forgotten women. She is "fascinated by the lives of the overlooked," says the Calgary Herald
, and her novels reveal a passion for the simple pleasures of everyday working lives. She says, "I like attention paid to the details that sustain us."
She was born in a suburb of Chicago in 1935, third child of a candy factory manager and a teacher, and had a happy childhood. She met her Canadian husband on a college exchange program in England. After having five children and being what she calls a "typical" 1950s housewife, she "took a master's degree, got involved in left-wing politics, learned French and gradually woke up." As she turned 40, her graduate thesis was accepted for publication along with her first novel, Small Ceremonies.
Her work gained international recognition with her fifth novel, Swann. She won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award for her 1993 novel The Stone Diaries (also short-listed for the Booker Prize), and the Orange Prize in 1996 for Larry's Party. Her latest novel Unless has stayed on the bestseller list since publication in spring 2002; it was nominated for the Booker Prize, the Giller Prize, the Governor General's Literary Award and the Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best Book (Canada and Caribbean). She is the author of over twenty books, including poetry, essays and a recent biography of Jane Austen. Her work has been translated into twenty-two languages around the world.
Shields learned she has Stage-3 breast cancer in 1998. An experimental treatment gave her an unexpected lease of life, during which she wrote the novel Unless. She worked her own pain into the fictional story of a woman who watches her daughter abandon her university studies to beg on the street. Carol Shields passed away in July 2003.
Marjorie Anderson met Carol Shields in the 1980s when both were teaching at the University of Manitoba. She is the seventh of eight children born to Asdis and Thorsteinn Anderson, Icelandic-Canadian fishers, farmers and storytellers from the hamlet of Libau on the edges of Lake Winnipeg.
She has a PhD in literature and taught for seven years in the English department at the University of Manitoba before moving to the School of Business, where she became director of the communications programs for commerce and MBA students. She was awarded the universitys Achievement Award for Excellence in Teaching, and has taught in international programs. She recently gave up full-time teaching to spend more time on literary projects and continues to run a communication consultancy for academic and corporate clients.
She and her husband live in Winnipeg and enjoy spending time with their four daughters and several grandchildren. Anderson's lifelong interest in writing and storytelling, and her involvement in editing and teaching over two decades, made the task of editing Dropped Threads and Dropped Threads 2 a comfortable one. She describes her collaboration with her friend Carol Shields as a great pleasure.
Table of Contents
Adrienne Clarkson, Foreword
Marjorie Anderson, Introduction
Jane Urquhart — Losing Paul: A Memoir
Alison Wearing — My Life as a Shadow
Mary Jane Copps — In My Mother's Arms
Lisa Majeau Gordon — An Exercise in Fertility
Billie Livingston — Cat Bag
Shirley Serviss — One Step Forward
Pamela Mala Sinha — Hiding
Dana McNairn — A Marriage in Seven Parts
Lisa Gregoire — Northern Lights and Darkness
Maggie Dwyer — Like Mother, Like Daughter
Sandra Martin — Snapshots
Barbara Defago — Inside Talking
Linda Harlos — The Fall, and After
Hildegard Martens — By Choice
Marianne Brandis — Virgin Crone
Faith Johnston — Debonding
Sarah Harvey — Mother Interrupted
C.J. Papoutsis — They Didn't Come with Instructions
Ingeborg Boyens — On the Water's Edge
Mary J. Breen — Nobody Needs to Know
Jennifer L. Schulz — Toe-Ring
Debbie Culbertson — A Place on the Pavement
Wanda Wuttunee — We Are More Than Our Problems
Linda Rogers — Bettina's Hat
Michele Landsberg — Don't Say Anything
Susan Swan — My Secret Life as a Mother
Karen Houle — Double Arc
Elizabeth Hay — Ten Beauty Tips You Never Asked For
Carole Sabiston — Conjuring Up a New Life
Flora MacDonald — New Voices
Sandra Beardsall — Life with an Overeager Conscience
Sandra Birdsell — One of a Bunch
Maude Barlow — The Coat I Left Behind
Ann Dowsett Johnston — The Boy Can't Sleep
Shelagh Rogers — Speaking of Dying
Carol Shields, Afterword
Reading Group Guide
1) Is there a balance between joy and sadness in Dropped Threads 2
2) The following is a quotation from Carol Shields' novel Unless: "Unless you're lucky, unless you're healthy, fertile, unless you're loved and fed, unless you're offered what others are offered, you go down in the darkness, down to despair." Do the stories in Dropped Threads 2 confirm or contradict this statement?
3) Can you compare and contrast two stories from the collection on similar themes?
4) Carol Shields has often spoken of redeeming the lives of ordinary people by recording them in her works; "especially that group of women who came between the two great women's movements." Can you compare the experiences of women who grew up in the fifties or before, and those of women who grew up later?
5) Dropped Threads 2 endeavours to look beyond the experiences of middle-class women to a broad cross-section of women with fewer privileges or less freedom in other cultures. What do you think this adds to the collection?
6) Ann Dowsett Johnston in "The Boy Can't Sleep" says she would like to pass on advice to her son about "the mating dance of men and women." What would you tell him?
7) How does this volume compare with the first book? While it is on the same theme, there are some differences. What stands out for you, the reader?
8) What does Adrienne Clarkson's Foreword add to the book? What is her main message to women readers?
9) Do the four divisions help "organize" the book for readers? Can you see how the stories fit under the individual banners of End Notes, Variations, Glimpses, and Nourishment?
10) What are some aspects of the surprises and silences in women's lives that haven't been touched on in either volume of Dropped Threads? What topic would you suggest in reply to the question, "What do women generally not talk about or pass on to others"?