rating: 4 of 5 stars
I stayed up all night to finish this book and I can't say that I've done this successfully with many books. The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields is well-written, compelling and very sad. In a nutshell, this is a fictional autobiography of one woman's life from birth to death and it is told through witnesses and the subject herself.
I was frustrated that Daisy Stone Goodwill Hoad Flett didn't clearly express herself, that she didn't have a passionate sex life and that didn't like to take too many risks. Daisy didn't know how like so mnay women of her generation (born in the early 1900s -- the same age as my grandmother). She also didn't question her circumstances, although to be fair she did take charge of her life once, which led to her marriage to Barker (who helped raise her). Besides her 9-year run as a freelance gardening writer, her life wasn't very fulfilling. She did have two wonderful female friendships and she was close to her grand-niece at the end, but I never quite felt connected to Daisy as I did to Aunt Clarentine, the neighbor who raised her after her mother died in childbirth and the mother of her future husband, Barker. Unfortunately, Daisy is stuck in her role for society as a wife and mother. She never breaks out of this pattern and I wonder if she ever really wanted to. She has a habit of subsuming herself and pretending she is not as smart as she is, which bothered me. As a result, her family and friends never gave her the credit and respect she deserved and they blamed her birth story for her depression and unhappiness. This book asks, was Daisy a good mother? What was missing from her life? What did she really feel? I think she did the best she could we what she had and she never knew what was missing in her life until after she died and then had access to all of this other information that's in the book. And finally, this book doesn't address her feelings, which she never felt she had the permission to express to anyone.
Shields is a master wordsmith and craftsman. She even adds a fantastic family tree in the book, as well as real photographs (some from her own family). I loved how well she managed the point of view shifts when lesser writers would have bungled it and all of her dialogue was real and even ironic/funny in some instances. I loved how she let her reader read between the lines and how poetic and symbolic she was. This book lends itself so well to book club discussions and my group could clearly say that The Stone Diaries was one of the best books we discussed in the year that we've been meeting.
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