The idea came up over lunch between two old friends. There was a need for a book that, eschewing sensationalism and simplistic answers, would examine the holes in the fabric of women’s talk of the last thirty or forty years. The contributors, a cross-section of women, would be asked to explore defining moments in their lives rarely aired in common discourse: truths they had never shared, subjects they hadn’t written about before or otherwise found a place for. What Carol Shields and Marjorie Anderson wanted to hear about were the experiences that had brought unexpected pleasure or disappointment, that somehow had caught each woman unawares. The pieces, woven together, would be a tapestry of stories about what women experience but don’t talk about. The resulting book became an instant #1 bestseller.
“Our feeling was that women are so busy protecting themselves and other people that they still feel they have to keep quiet about some subjects,” Carol Shields explained in an interview. Dropped Threads takes as its model the kind of informal discussions women have every day – over coffee, over lunch, over work, over the Internet – and pushes them further, sometimes even into painful territory. Subjects include work, menopause, childbirth, a husband’s terminal illness, the loss of a child, getting old, the substance of women’s friendships, the power of sexual feelings, the power of power, and that nagging question, “How do I look?” Some of the experiences are instantly recognizable; others are bound to provoke debate or inspire readers to examine their own lives more closely.
The book is a collection of short, engaging pieces by more than thirty women, from Newfoundland to Vancouver Island. Many are mothers, some are grandmothers, and many are professionals, including journalists, professors, lawyers, musicians, a corporate events planner and a senator. Readers will find the personal revelations of some of their favourite authors here, such as Margaret Atwood, Bonnie Burnard, Sharon Butala, Joan Barfoot, Joan Clark and Katherine Govier. Other contributors include:
• Eleanor Wachtel, CBC radio host, talks about her early fears of speaking in public.
• June Callwood, journalist, social activist and a Companion of the Order of Canada, at the age of seventy-six is surprised at her failure to find answers to the imponderable dilemmas surrounding human life, and of her lack of connection to the “apparition” in the mirror.
• Isabel Huggan, short story writer, muses on what she considers the impossibility of mothers passing on knowledge to their daughters, and on her own feeling that “we are girls dressed up in ladies’ clothing, pretending.”
With writing that is reflective, often amusing, poignant, emotional and profound, Dropped Threads is the first book to tackle the lesser-discussed issues of middle age and is the first anthology the editors have compiled together.
Marjorie Anderson is the seventh of eight children born to Ásdis and Thorsteinn Anderson, Icelandic-Canadian fishers, farmers and storytellers who farmed in the hamlet of Libau, on the edges of Lake Winnipeg. She has a Ph.D. in English literature and taught writing and literature at the English department of the University of Manitoba before moving to the university’s I. H. Asper School of Business, where she is now director of communication programs. Her teaching specialties at the Asper School include interpersonal and intercultural communication, oral presentation skills, mediation and negotiation strategies, and conflict management. Through her company, Wordwise Communication, she conducts seminars and training sessions for professional and business organizations. She has been awarded the Faculty of Management’s Achievement Award for Excellence in Teaching and has been chosen to teach in a number of international programs, the most recent one being an MBA program in the Czech Republic in the spring of 2000. She and her husband, Gary, live in Winnipeg and have four daughters and five — soon to be seven — grandchildren. .
Anderson has had a lifelong interest in writing and storytelling and has been involved in editing and teaching editing skills for approximately twenty years; therefore, the task of editing Dropped Threads was a comfortable one for her and the collaboration with her friend Carol Shields was a great pleasure.
Born in Oak Park, Illinois in 1935, Carol Shields moved to Canada at the age of twenty-two, after studying at the University of Exeter in England and the University of Ottawa. She started publishing poetry in her thirties, and is now the author of over twenty books, including plays, poetry, essays, short fiction, novels, a work of criticism on Susanna Moodie, and a new short biography of Jane Austen. Her work has been translated into twenty-two languages.
The Stone Diaries (1993), her fictional biography of an ordinary woman who drifts through the roles of child, wife, widow and mother, bewildered even in old age by her inability to understand her place in her own life, received overwhelmingly favourable reviews. The book won a Governor General's Literary Award and a Pulitzer Prize, and was also shortlisted for the Booker Prize, bringing the author an international following. Another novel, Swann, was made into a film, and two more screenplays based on Shields’s books are in production. Larry’s Party, published in several countries and recently adapted into a musical stage play, won England’s Orange Prize, given to the best book by a woman writer in the English-speaking world. Shields says it was “a wonderful prize to get.”
Shields’s novels are shrewdly-observed portrayals of everyday middle-class life. Reviewers have praised the author for exploring such universal problems as loneliness and lost opportunities. Shields, who has lived with illness for a number of years, speaks thankfully of her own fulfilling life; a former professor of English at the University of Manitoba and chancellor of the University of Winnipeg, she now lives in Victoria with her husband, a retired engineering professor, and is the mother of five grown children. Thanks to the success of The Stone Diaries, she was able to buy a summer home in France, nicknamed “Château Pulitzer” because the many literary awards she has received have dramatically increased sales of her work around the world.
Shields has spoken often 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. … I think those women's lives were often thought of as worthless because they only kept house and played bridge. But I think they had value.”
In an eloquent afterword to Dropped Threads, Shields says her own experience has taught her that life was not a mountain to be climbed, but more like a novel with a series of chapters.
Carol Shields passed away in July 2003.
“There are exciting and truly intimate entries in this book…these women take ideas even secret ones, and infuse them with poetry, scoured and buffed sentences and …stopwatch comic timing…The true depth of the collection is found in these women’s clear memories and their willingness to share.” -- Quill & Quire
“It’s a collection of revealing essays and short stories by 35 Canadian women at mid-life and beyond, reflecting on the life events that caught them off guard and, somehow, haven’t been talked about…As it turns out, there are many dropped threads in our lives. Weave them together and you’ve got a tapestry.” -- Bonnie Schiedel, Chatelaine, April 2001
“Dropped Threads … is a collection of 34 pieces by Canadian women in which they describe…everything they never said or were not able to say before, but which had tremendous power in their lives…[Senator Sharon Carstairs’s] essay about women in politics [is] clear-eyed and devastating …Miriam Toews examines her father’s lifelong battle with depression, which culminated in his suicide … with gentleness and insight … These are all the conversations we would wish to have with friends and these essays stimulate the sense of exuberance and relief that one always feels after a long, self-revelatory talk.” -- Virginia Beaton, Halifax Chronicle-Herald, 25 Feb 2001
“Dropped Threads is a much-awaited anthology of essays and stories by Canadian women, including celebrated writers as well as women who are neither writers nor famous … The angst of the women in Dropped Threads covers a wide spectrum.” -- Paul Gessell, Ottawa Citizen, 20 Jan 2001
“if the value of books were measured by the insights stored within their pages, Dropped Threads would be priceless…[This] is a wonderfully well-written and excellently edited book that offers such intimate insights that it sometimes seems like a stream of consciousness. The compositions frequently make the reader feel like an eavesdropper -- and an extremely entertained one at that…The stories in Dropped Threads cathartically tie up loose ends for their writers, while providing readers with an exquisitely crafted patchwork quilt of life experiences.” -- Winnipeg Free Press
On Lily Redmond’s Mrs. Jones, writing about abortion:
“One of the most powerful essays... . So many of us can talk with ease about the theory – our unwavering support for a woman's right to choose – but no woman ever wants to make that tragic choice or even admit to having once made it.” -- Pamela Wallin,@globebooks.com
On Joan Barfoot’s Starch, Salt, Wine, Chocolate:
“Barfoot is always interesting and her take on female friendship is clever and well observed. Loyalty, Barfoot feels, is the most important gift of friendship, although spinoffs abound.” -- Nancy Schiefer, The London Free Press