Saturday, May 16, 2009

The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields

The Stone Diaries, by Carol Shields, is another one of those beautiful roses that I would not have appreciated at an earlier age. (According to Amazon, this book is frequently purchased with my last read. That's almost scary.)

This is the fictional autobiography of Daisy Goodwill Flett, a woman whose life spanned almost a century. Daisy knew absolutely nothing about Mercy Goodwill, her mother, who died giving birth to her in 1905, and never really bonded with her father, who did not raise her during her early childhood. She was born in Tyndall, Manitoba, but raised in Winnipeg by Clarentine, a middle-aged woman who had befriended her mother. Unfortunately, Clarentine met an untimely death when Daisy is eleven, and that is when she joined her father, Cuyler Goodwill, in Indiana. Got that? Daisy was repotted many times in her life. She was widowed twice, became enthralled with a career as a columnist at a local newspaper, where she was known as Mrs. Greenthumb, suffered a nervous breakdown when this career ended, but eventually recovered and then struggled to make sense of who she was and what her life was about.

Daisy Goodwill Flett's life was certainly not unusual or interesting, but Carol Shields allows us to see her from all sides, from different points of view, and explores what a life story is, exactly--is it what others remember about Daisy, what Daisy herself remembered and believed, or is her story the sum of the documented facts about her? I found this book tragic because she is so all alone most of her life, especially at the end, when she cannot make herself understood and is left with her memories. Her children are puzzled as to why she would leave this possession or that to them, and when they encountered facts they did not know about, they misinterpreted them. Surely, Daisy's last life, in a retirement home in Florida, must have been unrecognizable to her. At this point, her children and grandchildren were geographically spread far and wide, and Grandma Flett became an idea, an abstraction. In the end, her children even chose the wrong flower for her funeral.

When I read obituaries of women who were born eighty or more years ago, I'll wonder all the more what exactly happened between bridge club, gardening, and cooking. Is that all there was? The Stone Diaries is a fascinating novel that will stay in my mind for awhile.


And I can't resist a great picture--

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I'd mentioned, at some earlier time, that I have dueling default browers. Today's livesearch informs me that when a group of peacocks and peahens roust together in a tree, it's called a party. Party!


Doug said...

Sounds like an interesting book. Leavin' Cheyenne, by Larry McMurtry might be kind of similar. It's the story of two boys/men and a girl/woman and they take turn as the main character as the story breaks into three stories starting when they're teenagers and ending when they're old.

actonbell said...

Hmm, I've never read anything by McMurtry--that sounds good, too.

TLP said...

Sounds good and also different.

You're having a party and didn't invite me? That Acton.

Tom & Icy said...

That's interesting that you say it presents different points of view, but the word Diary conjures up the idea of one person telling one point of view. I can understand how a biography can present divergent viewpoints or a story like the one Doug mentioned that had three main characters each expressing their points of view. It's just my eyes won't let me read anymore and I have to use talking books but they are hard to keep the train of thought sometimes. I always loved stories that went over several decades. I just miss reading anymore.

Doug said...

A-bell, that's a good start for McMurtry. One of his best books, and almost definitely the best book you haven't already seen the movie from.

Jocelyn said...

I loved THE STONE DIARIES when I read them--oh, gosh, way too long ago now (I actually re-learned the book's plot from your summary). Now I know I need to reread.

Oh, and McMurtry's LONESOME DOVE is awesome. Even the mini-series is well done.

Fred said...

I need to read more books. I go through magazines and newspapers like there's no tomorrow, but because I've always got my nose in a textbook, I've been shying away from the good stuff. I'm hoping to get back on track this summer.