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Amy Bloom is a novelist and short-story writer whose most recent book is Lucky Us.

Carol Shields wrote ten great novels, four wonderful story collections, and a deep, compelling biography of Jane Austen. She won many of Canada's literary prizes, England's Orange Prize, and a Pulitzer. But she would have been the last person to be surprised if you hadn't heard of her. She was in the business of writing seriously (with great wit) about serious women—and often men. Shields saw the great and the small simultaneously: The woman cleans the house because it is her obligation, because it is soothing, because she wishes not to know what she knows, because there is grace and pleasure in a domestic chore.

In Shields's novel Unless, Reta Winters is a 40-ish writer and translator of light, summery books who has lived life with insistent optimism—until her daughter leaves the family and drops out of college to sit on a downtown street corner, wearing a sign that says GOODNESS and holding a begging bowl in her lap. She will not come home, she will not explain. Unless is not heartwarming; it is witty, subtle, disturbing, a laser into the center of loss and grief that makes you laugh out loud and think again.