Most people want to be happy. But how many have what it takes to be good? Can self-realization and morality share the same space in our lives? Or can we only have one and not the other? These are the questions that underlie Carol Shields's 2002 profoundly moving novel Unless (Vintage Canada), which explores the "problem of goodness" and how it squares with the very human desire for happiness.
Reta Winters is going through a period of "great unhappiness." The successful writer, wife and mother appears to have every gift life can offer, and yet, she's miserable, consumed utterly by the sudden change in her 19-year-old daughter, Norah.
Without warning, the pretty, confident young university student has chucked it all — school, love, her family — for a life on the streets. Norah now spends her nights in a homeless shelter, and her days plunked on a street corner in downtown Toronto. Around her neck hangs a sign that reads "goodness." She collects money from strangers, which she then distributes to the homeless of Toronto. The question that haunts her family: Why?