Sunday, November 4, 2007

The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields

I read this book for both the Reading Awards and the Canadian Authors Challenges. It is the second book in the Canadian and my sixth in the Reading Awards Challenge. It is the winner of Pulitzer Prize.

Shields has written a pseudo-biography of Daisy Goodwill Flett and follows this character from her birth in 1905 until her death near the end of the century so her life stories spans the incredible changes in Canada and America in the 1900s. However, Shields chooses to tell the story in selected vignettes of time.

STRENGTHS OF THE STONE DIARIES: The writing is marvelous, and Shields is able to draw the reader into this story even though she changes point of view throughout the telling of this life. I call it a telling, but it really feels like a remembering - how memories are indistinct at time and sometimes skip around to what may, or may not, really be important. That is what I loved most about this story. Shields was able to capture the life of an ordinary woman without an excessive focus on her role as wife and mother.

There is a segment, after the death of her second husband, where we hear about Daisy's life, and job, through a series of letters written by her and by others. These letters truly capture the time period, the 1950s, while establishing Daisy as an independent woman, which was not the norm for that era. Also, there is an incredible chapter where Daisy loses her job and sinks into a depression that is heart-wrenching because we are told about it from so many different perspectives that it is clear that no one really knows Daisy well enough to help her and, ultimately, she has to decide to not be depressed any longer in order to survive. I also loved the role of her female friends throughout the story. It really felt true to the friendships I've experienced with women in my own lifetime.

WEAKNESS OF THE STONE DIARIES: I'm sure the changing points of view and episodic story telling would turn off some readers. However, I adored the book so I really can't speak to its weaknesses. It is probably one of the best books I've read this year.

Overall, as you can tell, I adored this book. I loved the writing and the character of Daisy. I really felt like I was sharing her life, and the chapters where she declined into memory loss, and eventual death, where incredibly moving. I haven't felt this involved with a story emotionally since I cried through the end of Isabel Allende's Paula, and that's pretty high praise for me! Paula is probably my favorite book of all time so this one ranks right up there. I'd love to know what you thought about this one - even if you didn't like it. Let me know.


1morechapter said...

I'm with you! One of my favorites this year.


John Mutford said...

The changing points of view did detract from my opinion of the book. I actually liked Unless more, but I know most people feel the other way around.

BookGal said...

Michelle - Thanks for visiting.

John - I've never read Unless. It's on my TBR list now!

Sarah at SmallWorld said...

You've certainly hooked me with your review! I also love Allende but haven't read Paula, so I've added that to my list as well.
Visiting for Semicolon's Review of Books--

Trish @ Love, Laughter, Insanity said...

I'm glad you liked it...I really really did not like this one. :) Perhaps in a few years I'll give it another go.