The Republic of Love by Carol Shields
In this 1992 novel Carol Shields sets up two separate people, living in the same Canadian town, Winnipeg, and, although we know that they’re going to meet and get together, we don’t know how.
Fay Mcleod is thirty-five and is writing a book about mermaids, she has never fully committed to a man before . Tom Avery has had twenty-seven mothers and three wives and he works on the radio late at night, taking calls and playing sentimental songs.
They don’t meet until half-way through the novel. In the meantime we see them as they are, warts and all. Shields doesn’t romanticize them. She shows us their positive and negative sides, their strengths and vulnerabilities, their friends and family, their past attachments and failures and their future dreams.
The novel is funny in parts, when Tom tells Fay that he has been married three times, she can’t stop thinking about it. ‘Three,’ she says. She wants to know how long each marriage lasted. Tom tells her, then he says:
‘You look – stricken. Christ, I don’t blame you.’
‘Two would be almost easy, but three -.’
‘I know. I know. What can I do?’
‘Just let me sit here and grieve for a minute.’
‘I’m forty years old,’ Tom said, and reached for her hand. ‘You must have known I’d have some history.’
Just after the mid-point of The Republic of Love Tom and Fay meet and fall in love and get happy and then the narrative becomes boring and a little tedious. This is because in real life when people fall in love and get happy they need to be together with as few interruptions as possible, so nature makes them boring to keep other people away.
At this point Shields’ brings the book back from the edge by introducing something unthinkable.
Carol Shields is always aware of love’s crippling inability to look at itself. Still, during this section of the book you begin to realize why fairy stories always end when the couple fall in love and get married. They end there because it is really difficult to deliver a storyline with people who are just soppy about each other, people who lose sight of the world.
The Republic of Love is an early book in Shields’ writing life and is not typical of her output, though there are sections of prose which make you stand back on your heels. As a complete novel it doesn’t hold up for me, but nevertheless there is a lot to admire about it and it contains much for the fledgling writer to ponder.