The Stone Diaries

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Carol Shields, 1993

Meet Daisy Goodwill, the daughter of a woman who (arguably) died without knowing she was a mother. Daisy may as well have been carved from stone. She is, after all, the daughter of a stonecutter, and eventually she is the wife of two men (not at the same time) and mother of three children. After her singular birth, Daisy leads an outwardly unremarkable life.

I read the book years ago, but the only passage of this Pulitzer Prize winning novel I recognize upon re-reading is the statement that Canada is very hot in summer. I was taken aback when I found a series of photos halfway through the book, all with captions identifying them as Daisy’s family members. I don’t remember seeing them the first time around. Wait, I thought – is this a true story?

It’s not, and photo pretense is one of the boldest literary devices I’ve seen in fiction. Consider that the narrator is Daisy herself and that she speaks in both first and third person, and consider that third-person Daisy narrates her own death (no spoilers there; you’ll know that as soon as you look at the chapter titles), and you will recognize that this is not your ordinary life story.

Most of the book takes place in Canada, starting around 1905. The “stone” motif is strong through about the first third of the book, is submerged in the story of Daisy’s work and home life, and then shows up again toward the end – a subtle, but pleasant surprise. Daisy has origins in stone, and in the end she returns to stone.

I’m glad I picked this book up to re-read. I’m still struggling to make sense of how first-person Daisy can impose herself into a third-person narrative – even using the two different voices in the same sentence at one point toward the end of the story. I’ll be thinking about this for a while.

This short novel is character-driven, which leads to some introspective passages that are a little tedious, so I rated my experience of The Stone Diaries at 4.5 stars. If you enjoyed reading or watching Thornton Wilder’s play Our Town, or Helen Hooven Santmyer’s novel And Ladies of the Club, you will appreciate this book.

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