Monday, February 02, 2015

The Stone Diaries

Written in Stone

Here is my second book review of the month. I just finished The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields which won the Pulitzer Prize for 1995. Sometimes I think prize-winning books are overrated and this novel doesn't alter that opinion. The Stone Diaries follows the life of one woman, Daisy Goodwill, from before her birth to her death. It does so through some varied and occasionally odd narrative technique. At times, the narrator is Daisy Goodwill herself. In other places, members of her family and friends speak to the reader or history unfolds through letters, newspaper clippings and other written documents. Early in the book I found the narration jarring and distancing from the main characters. Later I felt more emotionally involved but there were times that I was pressed to keep reading. The title of the book seems to illustrate one central theme, that of stone as metaphor for life. The men in the first half of the book are quarry workers and Daisy's mother, a foundling, is given the last name Stone at the orphanage where she is raised. Near death, Daisy even imagines herself turned to stone. For much of the second half of the novel, stone is abandoned for plants and flowers, perhaps a riff on the name Daisy as names are important in this novel. The last paragraph of the novel is a discussion of what flowers should have been chosen for Daisy's funeral. I gave the novel three stars not two, even though I was bored of it at times, because it seemed to pick up in the second half and because there is some undoubtedly beautiful language. The author writes of Daisy's father's religious conversion: "He had thought himself alone in the world, but in fact he is a child of this solid staring rainbow, and of the persevering forms of light and shadow, of substance and ephemera. A child of the earth." Later in the novel, Shields eloquently describes Daisy's depression: "Now, at the age of fifty-nine, sadness flows through every cell of her body, yet leaves her curiously untouched. She knows how memory gets smoothed down with time, everything flattened by the iron of acceptance and rejection. . . ." Writing like this gives the novel moments of greatness but not enough for a Pulitzer, in my humble opinion.

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