"The Orange Fish" (from The Orange Fish)
The narrator of this story is a 39-year old man, unhappy in life and marriage, and suffering from an ulcer. He and his wife are transformed when they purchase a lithograph of an orange fish and hang it in their kitchen. But of course, this story is not really about a man and a woman and a fish lithograph. Carol Shields makes some big statements about consumerism, youth worship and the fear of aging, and the healing power of creativity. If we allow art in all its forms into our lives, it will reveal truth and its potency will transform us. The irony of the story also reflects another truth: when we try to capture and replicate the originality and power inherent in original expression, it is diluted and becomes meaningless.
Carol Shields strikes a chord. She is able to take a simple act (the purchase of a piece of art for a bare wall) and make it a profound, life-altering act without reducing it to sentimentality or the ridiculous. Rarely has a work of short fiction felt so much like a door into an entire world that is fully realised in a few short pages.
Writings by Carol Shields:
Small Ceremonies (1976)
The Box Garden (1977)
A Fairly Conventional Woman (1982)
Various Miracles (short fiction, 1985)
Swann: A Mystery (1987)
The Orange Fish (short fiction, 1989)
The Republic of Love (1992)
The Stone Diaries (1993)
Larry's Party (1997)