Book Review: The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields


Around The World For a Good Book selection for: Canada

Author:  Carol Shields
Title: The Stone Diaries
Publication Info: New York : Viking, 1994.
ISBN: 0670853097

Summary/Review:

First impression:  This author has a predilection for unsettling, detailed descriptions of human flesh in order to get the point across that a woman in overweight.

Second impression:  Shields also has a disturbing hang up about sex and sexuality.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that.  Or unusual.

Third impression:  While this book is ostensibly about a woman name Daisy Goodwill Flett the reader rarely hears her voice.  Daisy’s family and friends are the narrators and often go on a bit about themselves more than Daisy.  Its like we can’t really approach Daisy, we only touch her tangentially.  In that way it’s reminiscent of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.

Fourth impression:   Who are these people in the photographs in the centerpiece?

Fifth impression: While each chapter is titled as a specific period in Daisy’s life, the narrative is nowhere near that linear.  Flashbacks cunningly fill in details we were spared earlier in the novel, as if we’re learning as we’re growing older, just like Daisy.  The chapters vary widely in writing style too – one chapter is the dying vision of her father, one chapter is entirely letters written to Daisy’s newspaper column about flowers, and one consists of divergent opinions from family and friends about Daisy’s mental breakdown. In this sense it reminded me of Ulysses.

Sixth impression:  The writing in this book is brilliant – moving without being manipulative.  I didn’t think I’d like it at first but for the second half of the book, I couldn’t put it down.

This book was selected by my W&M Boston Alumni Chapter book club and I’m also assigning it to represent Canada for Around the World for a Good Book.  After reading so many books by authors from developing nations who’ve relocated to Europe or America, here’s the rare instance of an author born in the United  States moving to Canada.  Despite that, and despite the fact that even the protagonist spends part of her life in the US, I like the internationality of the book, and at least one commentator considers The Stone Diaries to be the Great Canadian Novel.

Favorite Passage:

When we think of the past we tend to assume that people were simpler in their functions, and shaped by forces that were primary and irreducible.  We take for granted that our forebears were imbued with a deeper purity of purpose than we possess nowadays, and a more singular set of mind, believing, for example that early scientists pursued their ends with unbroken “dedication” and that artists worked in the flame of some perpetual “inspiration.”  But none of this is true.  Those who went before us were every bit as wayward and unaccountable and unsteady in their longings as people are today.  – p. 91

Recommended books: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz, Ulysses by James Joyce
Rating: ****

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