The Stone Diaries (1993)

by Carol Shields

The book jacket begins with "The Stone Diaries is one ordinary woman's story of her journey through life." But this ordinary woman, Daisy Goodwill Flett, has had some unusual things happen to her. When Daisy's mother dies giving birth to her in 1905, next-door neighbor Clarentine Flett leaves her husband and takes the infant Daisy to Winnipeg, where they will live with her grown son Barker. Clarentine's death when Daisy is 11 brings her father, Cuyler Goodwill, back on the scene. Cuyler, a stone mason and a stranger to Daisy, takes her to Bloomington, Indiana, where he will work in the limestone industry. A decade later Daisy is widowed on her honeymoon when her first husband falls out of a window. Another decade later she marries the guardian with whom she grew up, Barker Flett, 22 years her senior, and returns to Canada. After Barker's death she takes over his gardening column for an Ottawa newspaper and becomes a celebrated columnist for a decade.

But Shields makes Daisy a conventional woman despite such unusual experiences, with the ordinary domestic routines of raising children, cooking, and cleaning shaping Daisy's life. This book, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Critics Circle Award, seems unusual not so much because of what happens to Daisy but because of the way the story is told. As the title implies, the diary form organizes the narration, but it's not just Daisy's diary. There are comments from the major characters and some minor ones, letters, and newspaper excerpts. Daisy shifts between the first person to the third person in talking about herself. There are even photos of the characters and a family tree of the Goodwills and Fletts.

Also unconventional is the handling of time and lack of a conventional plot. Whole decades or more pass between chapters. Dropping in on Daisy's long life at various points, readers find out seemingly in passing about major events that have transpired.

As Daisy does what's expected of a woman of her time, she observes her life without much second-guessing. But we're given indications — through the comments of others, through the major depression she suffered at age 59 — that there is more to Daisy Goodwill Flett than the duties of daughter, wife, mother, and grandmother give expression to.


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