The Republic of Love (1992)

by Carol Shields

Fay McLeod, 35, appears to have it together. She’s attractive, has a career as a folklorist specializing in mermaids, is close to her family, has friends, and owns a stylish condo. But she’s never been married because she can’t commit.

Tom Avery, 40, commits too easily. He been married three times. It’s not that he has some awful flaw but that he hasn’t chosen wisely. The host of a late-night program on a Winnepeg radio station, he lives in a sterile apartment after his third divorce.

In The Republic of Love, Fay and Tom are head over heels as soon as they set eyes on one another. In most modern fiction, this wouldn’t bode well for permanence. Accepting the possibility of real love at first sight is part of the plan in author Carol Shields’s look at love with the seriousness and respect she says it doesn’t get. 

Fay and Tom aren’t silly kids, and Shields doesn’t have them meet until midway in the book. Earlier chapters, alternating between them, let us know why these two had stopped believing true love could happen for them. Even after Shields brings them together, she doesn’t make it smooth sailing. A crisis in Fay’s parents’ marriage — which she had thought rock solid — revives her skepticism about longterm relationships. By the time everything falls into place for a happy ending, Shields has thoroughly explored love — fearing it, finding it, recognizing it, losing it, refinding it, committing to it.

The Republic of Love is a smart pick-me-upper for romantically jaded readers who are older than, say, 35. It was the first of Shields’s novels to gain attention. She went on to write the Pulitzer Prize–winning The Stone Diaries (1993).


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