This new collection from Carol Shields distills her wisdom, elegance, insouciant sense of humour and eroticism into twenty-two wonderful narratives. The title story sets the stage: a Shakespearean prologue in which the narrative flame jumps from character to character, each of them dressed up and putting their best foot forward, conscious of costuming themselves for the daily carnival of life. A surprising treasure box of contrasts,Dressing Up for the Carnivalranges from the bittersweet sexuality of "Eros" to the straight-faced whimsy of "Flatties." Story after story reveals marriage in all its initial intoxication, erratic striving and defeated place-holding: Shields is brilliant at describing the psychological pacts men and women make with each other, often unwittingly. The love stories here are not so much about coming together as about the long haul, where the elastic gets stretched between lovers until it either breaks or snaps them back into each other's arms. Every page ofDressing Up for the Carnivalbeautifully displays Shields' deft articulation of character. There's the man of substance who traded love for comfort and lies in his bath "his throat full of unconfessed longings"; the proper YMCA director who takes his yearly vacation at a nudist retreat (and absolutely insists that his modest wife follow his example); and the female academic on the run from her mother who falls briefly in love with a professor who still lives with his. Playful, graceful, acutely observed and generous of spirit, these stories are Carol Shields at her most accomplished and appealing.