In celebration of the fifteenth anniversary of its original publication, Carol Shields's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel is now available in a Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition
One of the most successful and acclaimed novels of our time, this fictionalized autobiography of Daisy Goodwill Flett is a subtle but affecting portrait of an everywoman reflecting on an unconventional life. What transforms this seemingly ordinary tale is the richness of Daisy's vividly described inner lifefrom her earliest memories of her adoptive mother to her awareness of impending death.
For more than seventy years, Penguin has been the leading publisher of classic literature in the English-speaking world. With more than 1,700 titles, Penguin Classics represents a global bookshelf of the best works throughout history and across genres and disciplines. Readers trust the series to provide authoritative texts enhanced by introductions and notes by distinguished scholars and contemporary authors, as well as up-to-date translations by award-winning translators.
About the Author
Carol Shields (1935-2003) is the author of The Stone Diaries, which won the 1995 Pulitzer Prize for fiction, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and Canada's Governor General's Award. Her other novels and short-story collections include The Republic of Love, Happenstance, Swann, The Orange Fish, Various Miracles, The Box Garden, and Small Ceremonies (all available from Penguin).
Penelope Lively grew up in Egypt but settled in England after the war and took a degree in history at St Anne's College, Oxford. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, and a member of PEN and the Society of Authors. She was married to the late Professor Jack Lively, has a daughter, a son and four grandchildren, and lives in Oxfordshire and London.
Penelope Lively is the author of many prize-winning novels and short story collections for both adults and children. She has twice been shortlisted for the Booker Prize; once in 1977 for her first novel, The Road to Lichfield, and again in 1984 for According to Mark. She later won the 1987 Booker Prize for her highly acclaimed novel Moon Tiger. Her novels include Passing On, shortlisted for the 1989 Sunday Express Book of the Year Award, City of the Mind, Cleopatra's Sister and Heat Wave.
Penelope Lively has also written radio and television scripts and has acted as presenter for a BBC Radio 4 program on children's literature. She is a popular writer for children and has won both the Carnegie Medal and the Whitbread Award.
Hometown:Victoria, British Columbia, Canada
Date of Birth:June 2, 1935
Date of Death:July 16, 2003
Place of Birth:Oak Park, Illinois
Place of Death:Toronto, Canada
Education:B.A., Hanover College, Indiana; M.A. (English), Ottawa University, 1975
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Table of Contents
PENGUIN CLASSICS DELUXE EDITION
THE STONE DIARIES
CAROL SHIELDS (1935-2000) is the author of Dressing Up for the Carnival; Larry’s Party, which won the Orange Prize; and The Stone Diaries, which won the 1995 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the National Book Critics Circle Award. Her other novels and short story collections include The Republic of Love, Happenstance, Swann, The Orange Fish, Various Miracles, The Box Garden, and Small Ceremonies.
PENGUIN BOOKS Published by the Penguin Group Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, U.S.A.
Introduction copyright © Penelope Lively, 2008 All rights reserved
eISBN : 978-0-143-10550-3
1. Women—Fiction. I. Title.
For my sister,
A number of people have read the manuscript for this book and offered encouragement and suggestions. I thank Blanche Howard, Joan Clark, Jim Keller, Anne Giardini, Catherine, Meg and Sara Shields, and, especially, Miss Louise Wyatt of London, Ontario.
nothing she did or said
The best fiction surprises—and withholds. Each time that I read The Stone Diaries I see it differently. It is a story, first of all—the story of a woman, Daisy Goodwill, later Daisy Goodwill Flett. It is also many stories—those of her family and her friends. You read it first as such, drawn in at once by the compelling opening pages, and then keen to know what is going to happen—to Daisy, to the rest of them. Subsequently it becomes a view of how one woman—many women—lived in the twentieth century, what they expected and what was expected of them. It can be seen as a discussion of the nature of evidence—the way in which there is no single truth about anyone’s life, but as many truths as there are observers. And if you are interested in how a novel is made, it turns into an exercise in narrative technique. And, perhaps, airily—a demonstration of how a novelist can successfully juggle a cast of twenty characters and more over time and space without bewildering the reader.
Here is a story that opens in Manitoba in 1905 and ends in Florida in the 1990s. From birth to death—the parabola of a life, a North American life, with brief excursions to France, to Orkney. Daisy is born into a world that has known neither of the world wars, and in which a woman is required to be first and foremost a domestic support system. She leaves another one in which the globe has contracted and women expect to work outside the home. Her father-in-law sails the Atlantic as a young immigrant from Orkney: At the end of the century Daisy will fly the ocean to trace him. She has experienced the century in a temporal sense, but, as we learn in one of the novel’s deft commentaries, she has never known nude bathing, pierced ears, body massage, and much else that could be seen to characterize the age. Born in ‟the murderously hot back kitchen” of a Manitoba stone-worker’s home, she will spend her last years in a three-bedroom Florida condo, a Florida bluehead in a turquoise pantsuit.
Kitchens are rich with significance in the novel—kitchens and what is done in them. The vivid opening chapter has the kitchen as the scene of both birth and death, with the Malvern pudding that Daisy’s mother, Mercy, is cooking as an emblem of domestic labor and achievement—the thickly cut bread, the oozing fruit juices, the sugar. Many years later, Daisy prepares supper for her family—husband, three children—in an Ottawa kitchen (summer heat once more, so a cold meal): jellied veal loaf, sliced tomatoes, potato salad, raspberries again, but in little glass bowls. There is care and attention: the formality of a tablecloth, and before her husband’s return from work Daisy ‟fixes” herself—housedress off, fresh clothes, earrings, lipstick. We are told that Daisy desires—deeply, fervently, sincerely—to be a good wife and mother. She is an assiduous reader of women’s magazines, in support of this ambition. In one of the novel’s many significant asides—how others see Daisy—we are given the possible contrasting reactions of a visiting friend of her girlhood, Fraidy Hoyt, herself unmarried and childless. She is perhaps grimly envious—of the distinguished husband, the big house, the beautiful children; or, is she pityingly contemptuous of this woman drowning in domesticity, child-ridden, who probably hasn’t read a book in ten years? Teasingly, we are not told which view Fraidy holds, but this is 1947, and it is tempting to see Fraidy as the voice of the future, ahead of her day, already with the assumptions of the post-feminist woman.
Throughout the novel, the authorial voice alternates with those other voices, creating a deliberate ambiguity. We know what happens to Daisy, and frequently she speaks for herself, but we see her also as others see her, and no two people see her in the same way. Was she happy as a domestic goddess? Maybe not, for in the next, and crucial section of the book—significantly called ‟Work, 1955-1964”—she is shown, entirely obliquely, through a sequence of letters written by others, as immersed in a new role as Mrs. Green Thumb, gardening correspondent for the local paper, and eventually devastated and plunged into a lengthy episode of depression when she gets the sack. So was domestic life not work? This section is one of the most powerful in the novel—clever and funny—and it gives much pause for thought, as we see Daisy’s life of that time shimmer behind the words of other people, and it becomes clear that this is the point at which Daisy has achieved some kind of fulfillment and discovers in herself a capacity of which she had been unaware. She strove to be a good wife and mother, but was she in fact stifled by that role?
The whole novel is a cunning tapestry of evidence. Any novelist is of course in the happy position of being omniscient—of knowing everything about everybody, and deciding just how much information to release to the reader. The Stone Diaries is a virtuoso discussion of the nature of evidence itself, of the ways in which it is unreliable and conflicting. In a revealing sequence, we are given a whole slew of opinions about Daisy—those of her children, of her cousin, of Fraidy Hoyt once more. Fraidy believes her to have suffered from sexual starvation—citing her own fifty-four lovers as though this were a more normal record. Her cousin thinks the children drained her. Her daughter Alice sees her—from the viewpoint of a young woman of the 1960s—as without self-esteem in her domestic days: ‟She functioned like a kind of slave in our society.” This analysis is taking place during Daisy’s period of depression after she loses her journalistic job, and as a coda to the alternative views we are given an authorial glimpse into Daisy’s own state of mind: ‟Sleeping inside her like a small burrowing creature is the certainty that she’ll recover.” Nobody else has mentioned resilience, the capacity to survive. Maybe this is the key to Daisy’s personality.
After Daisy’s death these conflicting voices are once again heard, but interwoven now with another kind of evidence—the cool and indisputable facts of her life: the sequence of addresses at which she has lived, the illnesses from which she has suffered, the organizations to which she has belonged, the list of her bridal lingerie at her 1927 wedding. These flat lists are indeed evidence of a kind—a biographer could make good use of them—and they serve as a neat indication of the times in which she has lived, but they are also bland and uninformative without the color of an accompanying voice. They are there to demonstrate that facts alone can be both revealing and uncommunicative.
One of the novel’s most arresting features is the attention to detail, the use of detail to evoke time and place, from the ingredients of the Malvern pudding in that Manitoba kitchen to the account of Daisy’s sparse possessions in the hospital room of her last days: a toothbrush, toothpaste, a comb, a notebook, a ring of keys. . . . Physical objects are made to provide another kind of evidence, to conjure up the backdrop to Daisy’s life, and they are meticulously chosen and placed within the narrative. Detail is made to define a character: Daisy’s husband, Barker Flett, a senior civil servant with an expertise in botany, is devoted to taxonomy, to the ordering of the botanical world, and we are first introduced to him as a young man with a passionate dedication to the western lady’s slipper, genus Cypripedium, on which he is writing his dissertation: ‟Dorsal sepal, column, lateral sepal, sheath, sheathing bract, eye and root.” Somehow, this litany brings Barker Flett more sharply to life than any detached account: We see the way in which he saw things. When we learn what Daisy is wearing as a baby—a tucked nainsook day-slip topped by a plain flannel barrowcoat, which in turn was topped by a buttoned vest in fine white wool, the archaic terms are perfectly evocative of an early twentieth-century infant, and also say something of the person responsible for clothing her. One of the funniest passages in the novel is also one of the most telling, when we hear the bossy, instructing voice of Mrs. Hoad, mother of Daisy’s first husband, lecturing the young bride-to-be: ‟When you set the table, be sure the knife blade is turned in. In. Not out. Salad forks, of course, go outside the dinner fork . . . Grape-nuts are a necessity, also a very economical food . . . I wonder if you have discovered Venitian Velva Liquid for your own skin . . . For bath powder I suggest Poudre de Lilas. Some powders can be overwhelming. Men are offended by strong odors . . .” This torrential discourse not only tells us all we need to know about Mrs. Hoad, but serves also as a window into the lifestyle of the prosperous social circles of Bloomington, Indiana, in 1927. And on top of such set-piece instances of deliberate accuracy there is the occasional gift of a piece of throwaway detail that acts as a kind of marker, a reminder of the basic prompt of the novel; the stone with which Daisy’s young mother weighted her Malvern pudding contained three fused fossils of an extremely rare type. We are, after all, reading The Stone Diaries.
Stone is the foundation of the narrative—the dolomitic limestone quarries of Manitoba in which work both Daisy’s father and the father of her future husband, Barker Flett. In time, Cuyler Goodwill is to become a wealthy public figure, a position dependent upon his initial skill with stone. Magnus Flett will eventually return to his native Orkney, solitary and resigned, alienated from his family and requiring the reassurance of that stony landscape from which he came. There is a sense in which Daisy’s own life has been conditioned by stone—her birth in Manitoba, her subsequent youth in Bloomington, Indiana, to which her father’s skills have taken him and where he is prominent and well-regarded, her eventual marriage to and life with Barker Flett, himself a child of the quarries. The narrative rests upon stone, as it were, but its driving force is work.
Work is too often glossed over in fiction, put aside. The Stone Diaries pays proper attention to work, without ever becoming tedious. Most people’s lives, after all, are dominated by what they do, and here is a fiction which recognizes that fact, and gives it due respect. We are told about people’s working lives, with the greatest economy, from the daily time-table of the Manitoba quarrymen to Barker Flett and his lady’s slippers, and, later in the century, Daisy’s daughter Alice with her rarefied academic studies of Chekhov. And there is also, of course, the central issue of Daisy herself, her brief burst of journalistic employment, and the question of whether or not being a good wife and mother can be called work or not. The Stone Diaries is a novel full of activity, sometimes center-stage (those hot kitchens), sometimes in the background, but very much evident. Everybody is grounded—we know how they have spent their days, whether they are conjured up by the authorial voice or made to speak for themselves.
This matter of voices directs the novel, makes it distinctive and arresting. Carol Shields has used a complex and fascinating series of narrative devices with which to tell the story, from the detached authorial voice to the voices of the various characters, by way of letters, lists, and newspaper entries. It is a bold technique that is here entirely successful. The various shifts in narrative form act as small surprises, keeping the reader intrigued. Sometimes Daisy is allowed to speak for herself; more often, someone else is talking about her, or we hear of her in detachment, as we look over her creator’s shoulder. And then there is the sudden jolt of a letter, or the intervention of a friend or family member. This is a narrative style that lends itself to the most effective kind of economy—Carol Shields can say most by saying least. She never tells us that Alice is a somewhat prickly and difficult woman; we learn this from an aside by Fraidy Hoyt: ‟Alice looked gorgeous—my, she’s mellowed.” And the letter sequence from which we learn about Daisy’s period as Mrs. Green Thumb, and its dismaying conclusion, is wonderfully deft. It covers a handful of pages, where a conventional narrative form probably would have gone on a great deal longer and carried far less punch.
This narrative technique has allowed Carol Shields to escape the straitjacket of a long plod through the years. She can home in on a particular event, a particular period, and bring that to life. She can relay an important piece of information such as the death of Barker Flett, through the content of a solicitor’s letter—far more cogent than a plain statement of what has happened. She can ignore long stretches of time, but loop back to them later, as when we learn of Daisy’s college studies in nineteenth-century Italian history, revealed by her son Warren, who came across a box of old essays in the storeroom of the family home: There is a glimpse of an earlier Daisy and light is perhaps thrown on the frustrations of her later life. And the technique allows for an effective form of distancing, so that we see some events at a slant, from a throwaway comment—that Fraidy Hoyt has been widowed, that Beans (Daisy’s other girlhood friend) has been abandoned by her husband.
But perhaps the most significant effect of this technique is the way in which it can be seen to mirror the processes of memory. Memory is not linear, chronological; neither is it a narrative. Memory is like a series of slides, any of which may flash up at any time, in no particular order, and without links between them. The Stone Diaries respects chronology, it gives us the arc of Daisy’s life from birth to death, but within that structure the contrasting entries—long, short, expansive, terse—seem to mimic the way in which memory also makes a nonsense of time. In the mind, some entire years vanish into a black hole of oblivion, while a few minutes may hang there forever, brilliant with detail and effect. A childhood moment swims up when we have just been remembering an event of last month. A technique that abandons conventional narrative and plays with different voices, different ways of getting information across, seems to echo the contents of the mind, where what is seen, heard, and felt is all jumbled up—a card-index that has lost its indexing system.
But a novel requires system, above all. A novel that genuinely reflected the processes of memory would possibly be interesting and arresting but would also be pretty unreadable. We tolerate our own chaotic memories because we hold the key to the private code. While the structure of The Stone Diaries hints at the operation of memory, it also respects the requirements of fiction, the first of which is to remember the reader. Readers demand coherence; confuse them and you have lost them. An adventurous narrative form is only effective so long as it sweeps the reader along, and The Stone Diaries scores high. In fact, the switches from one voice to another, from detached overview to immediate account, from dialogue to letters, serve to keep the reader involved and expectant. You want to know what will happen next, and what has happened, but you are also drawn in by the presentation—the switches require attention.
The Stone Diaries is a relatively short novel that seems long, an effect created by its structure. A great deal happens to many people within a short space. There is a large cast, but even without the courtesy of the family tree provided it is not hard to keep track of relationships and connections. Characters drop out and can be forgotten until some neat reintroduction, such as the reminder of the Jewish peddler who was one of the group in the Manitoba kitchen on the day of Daisy’s birth—in the words of his grandson, decades later. We discover how that day had been a seminal one for him also. New names appear with each generation, but there is the satisfactory continuity of the people whose lives run parallel to Daisy’s and who make guest appearances throughout the narrative—her girlhood friends Fraidy and Beans.
In all of her fiction, Carol Shields excels at character creation. She conjures up a character in a few lines of dialogue, in a pungent authorial aside. The cast of The Stone Diaries brims with sharply defined characters, whether central figures such as Cuyler Goodwill or Barker Flett, or peripheral figures such as Cuyler’s second wife, Maria, who erupts into the story in a gust of exuberant and incomprehensible Italian. It is this precision about her characters that enables Carol Shields to field such a generous cast; we don’t get confused about people because all are so distinctive.
There is one exception: Daisy herself. This is of course entirely deliberate. We never see Daisy in such sharp relief because our view of her is multifaceted. There is an ambiguity about the perception of Daisy that is a reflection of the ambiguity that hangs over any life; we are all of us some things to some people, something else to others. And because the novel is in one sense a discussion of the nature of evidence, there can be no hard and fast definition of Daisy. As the focus of the story, around whom everything turns, she must be to some degree elusive; the reader’s contribution is invited. How do you see Daisy?
For my own part, I see her differently each time I revisit the novel: Sometimes she dominates and directs, at others she is almost submerged by the claims of others. The essential quality of the best fiction is that it should offer itself afresh at each reading—you find aspects that you had apparently missed before, you home in on some feature that had passed you by. The Stone Diaries is a novel so rich in characters, in events, in sharply evoked settings that it never fails to provide some new angle. If you read it with an eye to the backdrop alone, there is a range that runs from the stone quarries of Manitoba to the flat, bleak, windy landscape of Orkney, by way of prosperous Bloomington and the condominium land of Florida. Sometimes the humor stands out: the discussion of sex between young Daisy and her girlfriends, Mrs. Hoad’s spiel of instruction, the wry message contained in the letters sequence about Mrs. Green Thumb. At others you are struck by the elegance of the writing—that wonderfully accurate dialogue, the apt phrases that shine out on every page. There is no slack anywhere in this novel; it is taut from beginning to end, each paragraph essential, each section springing from its predecessor. I have enjoyed and admired all of Carol Shields’s work, and I believe The Stone Diaries to be her masterpiece.
It shames her how little the man eats, diddling his spoon around in his dish, perhaps raising his eyes once or twice to send her one of his shy, appreciative glances across the table, but never taking a second helping, just leaving it all for her to finish up—pulling his hand through the air with that dreamy gesture of his that urges her on. And smiling all the while, his daft tender-faced look. What did food mean to a working man like himself? A bother, a distraction, perhaps even a kind of price that had to be paid in order to remain upright and breathing.
Well, it was a different story for her, for my mother. Eating was as close to heaven as my mother ever came. (In our day we have a name for a passion as disordered as hers.)
And almost as heavenly as eating was the making—how she gloried in it! Every last body on this earth has a particular notion of paradise, and this was hers, standing in the murderously hot back kitchen of her own house, concocting and contriving, leaning forward and squinting at the fine print of the cookery book, a clean wooden spoon in hand.
It’s something to see, the way she concentrates, her hot, busy face, the way she thrills to see the dish take form as she pours the stewed fruit into the fancy mold, pressing the thickly cut bread down over the oozing juices, feeling it soften and absorb bit by bit a raspberry redness. Malvern pudding; she loves the words too, and feels them dissolve on her tongue like a sugary wafer, her tongue itself grown waferlike and sweet. Like an artist—years later this form of artistry is perfectly clear to me—she stirs and arranges and draws in her brooding lower lip. Such a dish this will be. A warm sponge soaking up color. (Mrs. Flett next door let her have some currants off her bush; the raspberries she’s found herself along the roadside south of the village, even though it half kills her, a woman of her size walking out in the heat of the day.)
She sprinkles on extra sugar, one spoonful, then another, then takes the spoon to her mouth, the rough crystals that keep her alert. It is three o’clock—a hot July afternoon in the middle of Manitoba, in the middle of the Dominion of Canada. The parlor clock (adamantine finish, gilded feet, a wedding present from her husband’s family, the Goodwills of Stonewall Township) has just struck the hour. Cuyler will be home from the quarry at five sharp; he will have himself a good cheerful wash at the kitchen basin, and by half-past five the two of them will sit down at the table—this very table, only spread with a clean cloth, every second day a clean cloth—and eat their supper. Which for the most part will be a silent meal, both my parents being shy by nature, and each brought up in the belief that conversing and eating are different functions, occupying separate trenches of time. Tonight they will partake of cold corned beef with a spoonful of homemade relish, some dressed potatoes at the side, cups of sweet tea, and then this fine pudding. His eyes will widen; my father, Cuyler Goodwill, aged twenty-eight, two years married, will never in his life have tasted Malvern pudding. (That’s what she’s preparing for—his stunned and mild look of confusion, that tender, grateful male mouth dropping open in surprise. It’s the least she can do, surprise him like this.) She sets a flower-patterned plate carefully on top of the pudding and weights it with a stone.
A cool place, the recipe says: ‟Set the mould in a cool place.” (The book is an old one, printed in England more than thirty years ago, its pages limp, but the author’s tone vigorous and pungent.) Yet where on a day like today is Mercy Goodwill to find a cool place? Even the dark stone floor under the cellar steps where she stores her milk and butter and lard has warmed up, giving off this last fortnight a queer sour smell. The Flett family, next door, has recently purchased a Labrador Ice Chest, zinc-lined, and Mrs. Flett has spoken shyly of this acquisition to Mercy, mentioning its features, its ventilating flues, the shining tin provision shelves, how a block of ice is able to last through two warm days or more.
Some sharp thought, the worry over how to keep the pudding cool, or perhaps envy for the Fletts’ new ice chest, brings on my mother’s first spasm of pain. She gives a little cry. Her eyes pull tight at the corners, as though someone has taken hold of her hair and yanked it upward so that her scalp sings. A witness, had there been a witness present in the little back kitchen, might have feared a fainting spell coming on, even though my mother is not much given to faintness. What she feels is more like a shift in the floor of her chest, rising at first, and then an abrupt drop, a squeezing like an accordion held sideways.
She looks down and observes with wonder how the blue and white stripes of her apron are breaking into colored flakes. Her hands fly straight out in the air, a reflex meant to hold back the crushing pressure, and she steadies herself by settling her shoulders and placing her palms flat on the table, leaning forward and letting go a long, soft whimper. The sound that comes from her lips is formless, loose, a wavy line of bewilderment. (Later, these words, more than any others, will attach themselves to my image of my mother: looseness, bewilderment.) For a heavy woman she perspires little, even during the height of summer, and she takes, if the truth were known, a shy pride in her bodily dryness—only now a broad band of dampness is spreading beneath her apron and down the channel of her back. She breathes rapidly, blinking as the pain wraps a series of heavy bands around her abdomen. Down there, buried in the lapped folds of flesh, she feels herself invaded. A tidal wave, a flood.
All spring she’s been troubled with indigestion. Often in the morning, and then again at night after her young husband has gone to sleep, she’s risen from her bed and dosed herself with Bishop’s Citrate of Magnesia. When she drinks ordinary milk or sweetened tea or sugary lemonade she swallows it down greedily, but Bishop’s cool chalky potion she pours into a china cup and sips with deep, slow concentration, with dignity. She doesn’t know what to think. One day she’s persuaded her liver’s acting up, and the next day her kidneys—she’s only thirty years old, but kidney trouble can start early in life, especially for a woman of my mother’s unorthodox size. Or perhaps the problem stems from constipation. Mrs. Flett next door has suggested this possibility, recommending rhubarb tablets, or else, speaking confidentially, some woman’s trouble. Excessive loss of blood, she tells Mercy, is the cause of discomfort for many young ladies—has Mercy spoken to Dr. Spears? Dr. Spears is known for his sensitivity to women’s complaints; he has a way of squeezing his eyes shut when he phrases his delicate inquiries, of speaking almost poetically of nature’s cycles and balances, of the tide of fertility or the consolation of fruit salts.
No, Mercy has not approached Dr. Spears, she would never speak to Dr. Spears of such a thing, she would speak to no one, not even her husband—especially not her husband. Her monthly blood has appeared only twice in her life, springing out of the soft cushions of her genital flesh, staining her underclothes with its appalling brightness, and mocking the small decencies and duties that steady her life: her needlework, her housekeeping, her skill with a flat iron, her preserves and pickles and fresh linens and the lamp chimneys she polishes every single morning.
The doses of Citrate of Magnesia help hardly at all. Fruit salts only make her suffering worse. Her abdominal walls have continued to cramp and heave all spring, and she’s wondered at times if her inner membranes might burst with the pressure. Bile rises often in her throat. Her skin itches all over. She experiences scalding attacks of flatulence, especially at night as she lies next to my father, who, out of love, out of delicacy, pretends deep sleep—she can tell from the way he keeps himself curled respectfully to his own side of the bed.
Excerpted from "The Stone Diaries"
Copyright © 2008 Carol Shields.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
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Reading Group Guide
"A kind of family album made into a work of art" —New York Newsday
From her calamitous birth in Manitoba in 1905 to her journey with her father to Indiana, throughout her years as a wife, mother, and widow, Daisy Stone Goodwill struggled to understand her place in her own life. Now, in old age, Daisy attempts to tell her life story through a novel. She listens, she observes, and, through sheer force of imagination, she becomes a witness of her own life: her birth, her death, and the troubling misconnections she discovers in between.
"She enlarges on the available material, extends, shrinks, reshapes what's offered; this mixed potion is her life. She swirls it one way or the other, depending on—who knows what it depends onfithe fulcrum of desire, or of necessity. She might drop in a ripe plum from a library book she's reading or something out of a soap opera or a dream."
The life in question belongs to Daisy Goodwill Flett, "a middle-class woman, a woman of moderate intelligence and medium-sized ego and average good luck." In other words, a woman so commonplace that her story would seem barely worth remarking, were it not, perhaps, for her own determination to tell it. And in telling it, give it shape and meaning—even if she must supply these herself.
This is the problem that Carol Shields addresses in The Stone Diaries: how do small lives, the kind most women were once assumed to lead, assume significance and coherence? How closely do our versions of those lives correspond to objective facts? Can facts be said to exist at all in the context of something as changeable and arbitrary as a life? To what extent do "our" stories really belong to us, considering the tendency that other people—parents, spouses, children—have to intrude in them, interpret them, claim them?
The Stone Diaries approaches these problems with seductive prose, a serene wit and an artfulness that is all the more dazzling given the novel's apparent insistence on the ordinary. Indeed, one of Shields' conceits has been to disguise her fiction as a "real" biography, complete with period photographs and a family tree. But beneath the scrupulous—if spurious—documentation and bland rural and suburban settings lie incidents as fantastic as the inventions of Gabriel García Márquez: a hugely fat woman dies in childbirth without ever realizing that she was pregnant; a dour Orkneyman journeys back to the island he left decades before, severing ties, jettisoning possessions, and living on to the age of 115 (with the uncanny ability to recite Jane Eyre from memory); a young husband falls to his death ten days after his wedding, possibly as the result of an unexpected sneeze, and his wife, who did the sneezing, never mentions her marriage and its grotesque ending to another soul. Strangest of all, the heroine of this novel passes through her life without ever fully occupying it—an absence that this beautiful and haunting book attempts to redeem.
ABOUT CAROL SHIELDS
The youngest of three children, Carol Shields was born in Oak Park, Illinois in 1935. She studied at Hanover College, the University of Exeter in England, and the University of Ottawa, where she received an M.A. In 1957 she married Donald Hugh Shields, a professor of Civil Engineering, and moved to Canada. She has lived there ever since. In addition to raising five children, all of whom are now grown, Shields has worked as an editorial assistant for the journal Canadian Slavonic Papers and as a professor at the University of Ottawa, the University of British Columbia, and the University of Manitoba, where she has taught for the last fifteen years. She lives in Winnipeg.
Shields is the author of several novels and short-story collections, including The Orange Fish, Swann, Various Miracles,Happenstance, and The Republic of Love. Her books have won a Canada Council Major Award, two National Magazine Awards, the Canadian Author's Award, and a CBC short story award. The Stone Diaries was nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award and the 1993 Booker Prize, and won Canada's Governor General Award. It was also named one of the best books of the year by Publishers Weekly and a Notable Book by The New York Times Book Review.
In this collection of stories, Shields illuminates the moments when ordinary people face extraordinary circumstanceswild coincidences, declarations of love, startling revelations. We are drawn, too, into a world of sharply observed characters: a comedy writer whose wife is dying, a couple who still gets Christmas cards from a man they assisted twenty-five years ago, an aging woman cutting the grass.
Autobiography of an Invisible Woman
Two dazzling companion novels, printed in one back-to-back book, tell the stories of Jack and Brenda Bowman, who for nearly the first time in their long marriage, spend a week apart. "Carol Shields is a name to set beside Margaret Atwood and Alice Munro"—Anita Brookner
The Orange Fish
These twelve stories exhibit Shields's extraordinary ability to find both meaning and mystery in the chaos of ordinary life. "Infused with a sly humor, these poignant stories revel in the ordinary, with a few side trips towards the sublime."—The Washington Post Book World
The Republic of Love
Fay, a student of mermaids who finds it difficult to make a commitment, and Tom, a radio talk-show host who commits all too easily to the wrong women, have each given up on romance...until they meet each other. But when reality intrudes they discover that taking up residence in the republic of love requires more than a touch of luck and a lightning bolt of love. "I envy those with The Republic of Love still ahead of them."—The New York Times Book Review
After her brutal murder, all traces of the existence of Mary Swann, rural Canadian poet, begin to vanish. As her characters try to solve the puzzle of Swann's disappearing legacy, Carol Shields explores the larger mysteries of the nature of art, as well as the powerful forces that motivate all of us. "One of the best novels I have read this year...deft, funny, poignant, surprising, and beautifully shaped."—Margaret Atwood
AN INTERVIEW WITH CAROL SHIELDS
What were you trying to accomplish in The Stone Diaries? It seems to be the autobiography of a woman who wasn't there.
I was interested in the notion of autobiography and, in particular, the idea of women's life stories. A lot of women are erased from their lives, sometimes as a result of their own actions and attitudes, but mostly for societal reasons. The saddest thing about women like Daisy Goodwill is that they didn't know what was owed them. They didn't have the words to say "I want." Ninety-nine percent of the women of Daisy's generation never claimed their own lives. Only a few women didand we have novels about them.
Although it purports to be the autobiography of Daisy Goodwill Flett, The Stone Diaries includes the stories of many other characters as well, and occasionally presents information that Daisy is unlikely to know.
I wanted to have a lot of other voices filtering in and out, representing Daisy's fantasies of what other people imagined about her. We all wonder how other people see us, and Daisy is no exception. I also wanted to include legend along with facts. The birth scene, for example. Daisy wouldn't remember her own birth, but doubtless she heard stories about it, remarkable as it was, just as I used to hear stories about my birth when I was a child. I remember my mother would always say, "You slipped out just like a lump of butter!" [Laughter]
Is The Stone Diariesmeant to represent Daisy's real life? To fill in the gaps that the people around her missed?
Well, you know we all carry around in our heads what we think is our life story. When I read back over my manuscript, I saw that Daisy had somehow leaped over her experiences with childbirth, sexual initiation, and education. But that's how life stories are. It's as though you end up your life with a boxful of snapshots. They may not be the best ones, but they're the ones you have. All the other pictures are in an album somewhere.
Speaking of pictures, what about your novel's photo section? It's a highly unorthodox touch that further pushes the envelope between fiction and autobiography. How did you come up with it?
When I read real biographies, I always turn to the photos in the middle. I'm always checking the image against the text. I found the photo of the Ladies Rhythm and Movement Club at a small country museum here in Manitoba. The photos of Daisy's grandchildren are actually of my own children. I asked them for permission, of course.
The idea of a woman being erased from her own life seems almost unbearably sad, but The Stone Diaries doesn't read like a sad book.
One of the things that redeems Daisy's life is her friendships with other women. Lifelong friends like Beans and Fraidy, along with the bridge club companions of her later years. Sometimes I think that those "bridge club biddies" were forerunners of consciousness-raising groups. They were early feminist cells.
In one interview you're quoted as having an interest in "subversive fiction." Is The Stone Diaries a subversive novel? In what way?
I love writing novels because the novel is such an accommodating form. You can do such a lot within one. I suppose a contemporary novel isn't supposed to rely too heavily on coincidence and synchronicity, but The Stone Diaries is filled with coincidences. So are most people's lives. I like to collect stories of other people's coincidences because I suspect that that's how the universe really works. Everything I've read about chaos theory bears this out. For a while I was worried because The Stone Diaries didn't seem to have a plot. And then I read an interview with Patrick White—I love Patrick White—in which he says, "I never worry about plot. I worry about life going on toward death."
What are you working on presently?
I'm writing a novel about work. I love the idea of work, the things people actually do for a living, and I've always been struck by the fact that in most novels people aren't working. I'd like to look at that.
- The first chapter of this novel is the only one that is narrated entirely in the first person. Why might the author have chosen to shift narrative voices? At what points in the book does the narrative "I" return? Who do you think is telling Daisy's story?
- What irony is implicit in the fact that Mercy Goodwill is unaware of her own pregnancy? Compare this near-virgin birth to Daisy's own catastrophically chaste honeymoon. How do this novel's female characters experience sex, pregnancy and childbirth?
- Although Daisy describes her mother as "extraordinarily obese" and taller than her husband, a photo reveals that Mercy Goodwill is actually shorter than Cuyler and no more than ordinarily husky. Is Daisy lying? Or does she merely have "a little trouble with getting things straight?" Where else are there discrepancies between Daisy's version of her life and the book's "documentation?"
- From the passionate Cuyler Goodwill to Barker Flett, who is smitten with Daisy while she is still a child, the men in this novel are both erotically enthralled by women and fulfilled by their relationships with them. In contrast, their wives seem bewildered by, indifferent to, or at best serenely tolerant of their husbands' ardor. Does The Stone Diariessubvert traditional sex roles? Where do Daisy and the novel's other female characters derive their greatest pleasure and fulfillment? How badly do Shields's women need men?
- When Cuyler Goodwill loses his wife he builds her a tower. When his daughter loses her first husband, she never tells the story to another soul. What might account for her reticence? How deeply does Daisy seem to love either of her husbands? On the other hand, how trustworthy are these characters' public displays of emotion?
- "Life is an endless recruiting of witnesses." This observation in the first chapter seems borne out by the constant stream of secondary characters who intrude into Daisy's life story and at times commandeer it. What role does Daisy—or Carol Shields—assign "witnesses" like the Jewish peddler Abram Gozhd‘ Skutari, the bicyclist who kills Clarentine Flett, or Cuyler Goodwill's housekeeper? Why might these characters reappear in the narrative years after their initial entrances? How trustworthy are their interpretations of Daisy's life and character?
- Although Cuyler Goodwill builds a tower in his wife's memory, he is unable to remember her name at the time of his own death. Magnus Flett is able to recite much of Jane Eyre from memory well into his hundreds. And, even as small children, Alice, Warren and Joan Flett "take turns comparing and repeating their separate and shared memories and shivering with pleasure every time a fresh fragment from the past is unearthed." What role does memory play in The Stone Diaries? How much of Daisy's diary is remembered, and how much imagined?
- In the chapter entitled "Sorrow," a number of characters offer explanations for Daisy's depression. How accurate are any of these? Are we given any reason to trust one interpretation over others? How well do any of Daisy's intimates really know her? How well does the reader know her by the book's close?
- How does Daisy influence her children or determine the choices they make in their own lives? Does she seem to do so at all? What kinds of lessons does she impart to them? Is Daisy Flett a "good" mother, a "good" wife or daughter? Does The Stone Diaries allow us to make such easy judgments about its protagonist?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
A lovely, compelling story of one woman's rather quiet life: an extraordinary look and an ordinary life. Beautifully written.
Fiction but using the trappings (photos, letters, stories that differ depending on the teller) of geneaology and biography, as if you were writing the story of your grandmother by piecing together what evidence you have. Daisy is not a famous person, but her descendents would take the time to describe her, to try to understand her and her family. This is one of those books in which prose style and mood is more important than plot.
I don't really understand why Shields' The Stone Diaries won so many literary awards including the 1995 Pulitzer and The Governor's General Award. It's not a bad book, but I found it a rather flat and shallow journey through one woman's life and most of the 20th Century from Manitoba to Bloomington, Indiana to Ottawa to the Orkney Islands to Sarasota, Florida. While purporting to be a novel, the fictional aspect of the book is undercut by the inclusion of photographs of a number of the characters, an elaborate family tree, and a section that seems to use (rather desultorily) genealogical research to connect the present-day characters with some of their ancestors. The reader is thus led to assume that the protagonist, Daisy Goodwill Flett, was a real person, probably related in some way to the author. But if so, there is little authorial reflection on or connection to the family.The novel is divided into ten chapters beginning with "Birth, 1905" and ending with "Death, 199-." The beginning, chronicling Daisy's conception and birth, is actually quite intriguing. Daisy's parents, Mercy Stone and Cuyler Goodwill, are elemental, almost Laurentian characters, who seemed to have saved each other from stunted existences. Cuyler is besotted with Mercy: "He knows that without the comfort of Mercy Stone's lavish body he would never have learned to feel the reality of the world or understand the particularities of sense and reflection that others have taken as their right." Cuyler Goodwill is, by far, the most interesting and well-developed character in the book. But Mercy dies in childbirth, and Daisy is taken to be raised by a neighbor, Clarentine Flett, for the first eleven years of her life. The tantalizing richness of the first chapter is never fulfilled in the rest of the book. I have to admit, I did find the next-to-last chapter of the novel, "Illness and Decline, 1985," somewhat entertaining as I was reading it lying in Sarasota Memorial Hospital, recovering from knee surgery. Grandma Flett, as Daisy has come to be known, has moved to Sarasota and ends up in the same hospital for a double-bypass surgery after collapsing from a heart attack on her condominium balcony.
Considering that this won the 1993 Governor General's Award, was nominated for the Booker Prize that same year, and won the 1995 Pulitzer Prize, and furthermore has been in all three editions of 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die, I'm going to guess that a lot of peoplea familiar with the idea of this book. So I'll save you the book report and summary.What I really liked the most about this was how Shields called it a "diary" in the title, but it really wasn't at all. In fact, the only section written in a strong first-person voice was the opening bit about her birth and details about her mother that the narrator wouldn't know. Most of what you put together about Daisy Goodwill's life is what other people say (or don't say) about her. And her name constantly changes (in one section she is referred to as Mrs Flett). Terrifically clever. Great writing.Recommended for: lovers of good writing. Some people call this a "woman's novel," but I think that sells the novel, and intelligent men, short.
some parts are so incredible, and that makes other parts seem very weak. there are some unnatural jumps and shortcuts in plot and character development. some characters seem to be two different characters merged into one using an unconvincing leap. some moments (especially the beginning) are wonderfully crafted, touching and inspiring. which is more of a reason why the overhaul feeling is of disappointment.
Phipps recommended. Good, but slow
I've read good things about this book on many of your threads, and it did not disappoint. This book traces the life of Daisy Stone Goodwill from birth to death, and in doing so, it celebrates the events that build a life - the happy and the tragic, the mundane and the breathtaking. It is written from multiple points of view, with one chapter told entirely through letters. Daisy is a strong focal character, but many of the supporting characters (Aunt Clarentine, Beans and Fraidy, Daisy's niece Victoria) are winning as well. It is hard to do this book justice in a short description, but if you have doubts, try the first chapter. The writing drew me in from the very start.
The fictionalized biography of Daisy Goodwill is excellent. It's an ordinary, extraordinary life revealed from various viewpoints such that the reader is left puzzling over where the truth lies. When her inner thoughts are presented, they seem rich and revealing but she herself doubts her self image. The views of others add color and detail, slowly shifting the conjured up kernel of self. The inability to capture the character and place her in a neat box is sometimes frustrating. All of the other characters are also deftly drawn.
This is an AMAZING book! Not only is the family history riveting, the format of the book is fascinating. I admire the way Shields uses language. By the last chapter, I was so wrapped up in the lives of the Characters that I was physically sick when Diaries ended. So much to think about during and after this novel.
¿(They) scraped with their tiny tools at the surface of the hidden world, hoping for what? To find a microscopic tracing of buried life. Life turned to stone.¿Daisy is an ordinary woman whose life story is told through a third person narration, occasionally alternating with Daisy¿s own perspective and that of family and friends, as well as through letters written to her. Throughout the book, we see her life through others¿ eyes and as it went on, I began to see this as the central theme of the book ¿ how a woman¿s life is framed by others¿ perceptions and experiences of her and how she can maintain her own identity in those circumstances. Loneliness and numbness and the transience of existence are explored, not only through Daisy¿s story but through those of some of the secondary characters. The novel is broken up into several sections; interestingly, the section on ¿Motherhood¿ is broken up into several sub-parts, which brought to mind the fragmentation of a woman¿s life ¿ wife, mother, friend, etc., and the subsuming of the whole person to these various roles. And in the last section, ¿Death¿, Daisy¿s life is reduced to a recitation of lists, a few recipes, and scraps of conversation among her family who never seem to truly have known who she was.A few favorite passages:¿Is this what love is, he wonders, this substance that lies so pressingly between them, so neutral in color yet so palpable it need never be mentioned? Or is love something less, something slippery and odorless, a transparent gas riding through the world on the back of a breeze, or else ¿ and this is what he more and more believes ¿ just a word trying to remember another word.¿ ¿In turn it perceives nothing of her, not her history, her name, her longings, nothing ¿ which is why she is able to love it as purely as she does, why she has opened her arms to it, taking it as it comes¿¿¿So much had happened, so many spoken words and collapsed hours, the rooms of his life filling and emptying and never guessing at the shape of their outer walls, their supporting beams and rough textured siding¿.. There are chambers, he knows, in the most ordinary lives that are never entered, let alone advertised, and yet they lie pressed against the consciousness like leaf specimens in an old book.¿¿¿ hurling herself at the emptiness she was handed at birth. In the void she finds connection, and in the connection another void ¿ a pattern of infinite regress which is heartbreaking to think of ¿ and yet it pushes her forward, it keeps her alive.¿Shields writes with grace and a subtle depth of feeling that grows as the story advances. There is a lot to reflect on in this novel, and I have only touched on a bit of it. I have not done justice to a beautiful book that pulled me in from the beginning.
What struck me most about this book was that, for a central character, Daisy is sketched very lightly. We see her only in the light reflected from other characters. And though it is at first sight a first-person narrative, it becomes clear that this type of narration will only make fleeting appearances - the prose quickly skittering back to the 3rd person omniscient. There are photographs in the middle of the book supposedly of the characters, but notably none of Daisy herseof. So we learn almost all there is to know about those around her, and we have to use ths knowledge, and information about how they interact with her, to construct Daisy. It is an ultimate 'show don't tell'.It's hard to criticise a book of such a formidable reputation. It iis an impressive lilterary feat, full of wisdom, sections to puzzle over and deconstruct, and sections of pure magic (Mrs Hoad's lunch with Daisy was a particular highlight as far as I was concerned). On the other hand, I did think we heard too little about what Daisy did in the long stretches of time the book doesn't cover. I was happy to be spared the sort of ditzy childhood memoirs found in other novels, but Daisy seemed to age unaccountably fast. It seemed nothing at all happened to her in those vast wastelands of time between 11 and 22, and between 22 and 31.There are many parallels with Carol Shields' novel 'Larry's Party', not least the structure of the final chapter. I preferred Larry marginally, but they're both good literary reads
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.
Have just re-read this book, and enjoyed it, I didn't find it as engaging as I did with my initial reading. My sense of the story is that it has two components: firstly it's the telling of a woman's life (from birth to death) - Daisy was a fairly ordinary person with a fairly complete life; and secondly, the author clusters blocks of time, describing the surroundings without writing the central character in great detail and illustrates that lives can be defined in periods, which whilst connected, are discrete and a fairly significant shift from the previous period.As an aside, though relevant given the book's title and cover, constant references were made to stone and flowers: her mother's maiden name was stone, she was born into a quarrying town, her father was a stonemason and made his money in stone, build towers of stone; her surrogate mother was a gardener, her husband a botanist, Daisy maintained a lush garden and wrote about them, she and her final friends had floral names: her father-in-law returned to the Orkneys - described as islands of superficial vegetation, growing over stone.
I'm writing this after a period of 18 months and find that I can't remember a single thing about it. I have read other people's reviews and even then have no recollection of the story at all. I know that I didn't hate it....
This book grew on me--at first appearing distant in how it treated its subject, Daisy Goodwill Flett, but ultimately moving and singular. The chapters in the table of contents tip you off you'll be reading about a life entire: Birth - 1905; Childhood - 1916; Marriage - 1927; Love - 1937; Motherhood - 1947; Work 1959 - 1964; Sorrow - 1965; Ease - 1977; Illness and Decline - 1985; Death. Yet, despite that, the first line, the title, this isn't memoir. First person peeps out only in bits here and there in the story--you don't feel this is Daisy's voice. It reads more like omniscient, with lots of other narrative devices: newspaper articles, letters, lists, looks at her by other points of view. It's not an extraordinary life, the kind that makes the history books, just a rather typical life of a North American woman of the twentieth century--born in Mantioba, Canada and ending her life in Florida. But the novel encapsulates much about the experiences of a woman, the stages of life, family and the changes in the world around her through the decades. The style is very lyrical--much of it told in present tense, with poetic prose at times and striking insights into life. I still feel a bit distanced from Daisy at the end--as if I quite don't know her--but strangely as if I know myself a bit better by the novel's end.
The Stone Diaries is a book I thought I should read for several reasons. It has received multiple honors, including a Pulitzer Prize for fiction. Its opening pages are filled with a genealogical tree. Part of the book is set in Indiana, a state where I have deep roots. However, I picked it up with a little trepidation. I've been disappointed in the past by books that don't live up to the promises they seemed to offer. This one didn't disappoint. I liked Daisy and most of the other characters in the book, I was drawn to their various life stories, and I continually marveled at the author's craftsmanship and the way she formed the story and characters.The fictional Daisy was just four years older than one of my grandmothers so I mentally classified her that way. Just when I felt like I was listening to family stories of long ago days when people were different, I came to this passage:When we think of the past we tend to assume that people were simpler in their functions, and shaped by forces that were primary and irreducible. We take for granted that our forebears were imbued with a deeper purity of purpose than we possess nowadays, and a more singular set of mind, believing, for example, that early scientists pursued their ends with unbroken ¿dedication¿ and that artists worked in the flame of some perpetual ¿inspiration.¿ But none of this is true. Those who went before us were every bit as wayward and unaccountable and unsteady in their longings as people are today.The Stone Diaries made me think about the way each person's life is shaped by the family and friends who surround them, by those who have lived and died before, and who in turn shape the lives of those who come after. While it's women's fiction, it's definitely not ¿chick lit.¿ It's a great reading choice for Women's History Month.
A gentle, compulsively readable story of one woman's life from birth to death, told interchangeably in the first- and third-persons. Each chapter takes place in a new decade, so we see Daisy's life episodically, but the intervening story, and the very detailed descriptions and experiences of secondary characters, result in an overall impression of having been present for her entire life, which spans most of the 20th century. Daisy is born in rural Manitoba; raised in Winnipeg and then in Bloomington, Indiana; raises her family in Ottawa (Canada); lives her widow years in Florida. Surprisingly, the semi-diary format does not leave the reader feeling as close to Daisy as might be expected, but her parents, husbands, children and relatives, friends, and late career as a gardening columnist, are all imagined with a richness which was a pleasure read.
This is the story of Daisy Goodwill, born in 1905, and her eventful life. Her mother died when she was born, and many misfortunes follow. But there are good parts to life too: a loving foster-mother, a nice education and life-long friendship, even, against all odds, a career and children. This book is beuatifully written, with very well developed characters, but it often gets a bit long-winded for me. I can understand people who cannot get through it - but when you do manage, you are rewarded with some spell-binding pages.¿
Story of the life of Daisy. Good read.
A fictional autobiography, Carol Shields has created a memorable character in Daisy Goodwill, and placed her life from 1903 to the 1990s, living in Manitoba and Ontario, Indiana and Florida. The Canadian places were especially well written. The story is told in many different voices (sometimes even when the same): The long days of isolation, of silence, the torment of boredom ¿ all these pressed down on me, on young Daisy Goodwill and emptied her out.I found the writing in the beginning and near the end of this book particularly beautiful, especially in Chapter 1, of the love of the shy young man for his chosen wife. After I'd closed the book and began to think back on the story, the ¿Old Jew¿, revealed in spurts throughout the book, turned out to be a most interesting character to my mind, from his participation at the birth, to his diagnosis of her ¿sorrow¿. But the main character is Loneliness. The loneliness, so palpably wafting from these pages, expressed (or sometimes not specifically remarked upon) by Daisy, and felt, before her time, by her own mother and the neighbor lady, even her own jolly childhood friends with their life experiences. In one of her interviews, Ms. Shields mentioned ¿women who are erased from their lives¿. That phrase succinctly captures this story. One woman's life, of her longings, suppressed or sought after, of trying to make a life working around disappointments - the author's skill at showing that life had me engrossed in this book from the moment I opened it.Moving right along, and along, and along. The way she's done all her life. Numbly. Without thinking. And. That life ¿thus far¿ has meant accepting the doses of disabling information that have come her way, every drop, and stirring them with the spoon of her longing ¿ she's done this for so many years it's become second nature. This book really resonated with me. Although I found some parts uncomfortable, the writing and the story drew me in. It is a very worthwhile book.
The life of Daisy Goodwill is followed from her birth through to her death, as well as delving slightly into the lives of many of the family and friends around her.I very much enjoyed the first half of this book, but by the middle section and then the end, I had grown weary of it. There are often long internal narrative and descriptive sections that wear thin for anyone not interested in that sort of thing. Much of the writing was beautiful, but pften bogged down with too much imagery, and far too much introspection. The point of the section being blunt like a baseball bat to the head, even if the point itself was ephemeral and complex.
It took me a long time to get into this. I kept at it, because it had such good reviews, and I thought I should like a Pulitzer Prize winning novel. I did finally get into the rhythm of the author's writing style, and I ended up thinking it was OK, but I did not love it, even though I wanted to.
I came to this via Marilynne Robinson's 'Home' (if you like this then why not try...) and it suffers by comparison. That's not to say it isn't a good novel, just that it never approaches the linguistic perfection of Robinson's work, nor can it escape the occasional stylistic cliche to which all but the truly remarkable must resort.An example of the cliche: the book opens with the birth of the main protagonist, Daisy Goodwill. Her mother never knew she was pregnant and dies after the labour. Gosh, haven't read that kind of thing before.And so, somewhat clumsily, we have our isolated subject whom we are to follow for the best part of the twentieth century. And here Shields is very close to Robinson's novel. For reading on, it gradually dawns that Daisy, despite featuring in every part of the novel is, like the female protagonist in 'Home', notable largely by what she doesn't do, by her lack of character: a woman without a mother, whose first marriage is not consummated, who remarries an older man who fell in love with her when she was eleven and, so, keeps her is a state of perpetual girlhood. It goes on. Interesting stuff, particularly given the experimental form of the narrative as it shifts in voice as it moves from decade to decade. Best parts are the most playful, the chapter made up of letters (though none from Daisy herself, another absence) and the closing chapters where others comment on her late years.Well worth a read, but most illuminating in showing exactly how good Robinson is.
Yes, this one won a pulitzer, and it's well-written and everything, but it just didn't hold my attention very well.
I loved this book. I loved the writing. It isn't a heartwarming book, but it is a thoughtful one. These "diaries" chronicle Daisy Goodwill's life from her birth in 1905 to her death in 199? (we aren't told the exact year). Each chapter of her life is told from her point of view, although in the book (and sometimes even in a single sentence) she switches back and forth between 1st and 3rd person. We learn of her childhood, her marriages and children, loves and losses, work and leisure, and finally her old age and death. The "chapters" made me think of my own life stages so far and the ones that are to come. All of us have a similar beginning and ending, but it's the middle that makes life interesting.There were many, many beautiful passages in this book. I'll leave you with one as an example of the excellence of Shields' writing:"Something has occurred to her--something transparently simple, something she's always known, it seems, but never articulated. Which is that the moment of death occurs while we're still alive. Life marches right up to the wall of that final darkness, one extreme state of being butting against the other. Not even a breath separates them. Not even a blink of the eye. A person can go on and on tuned in to the daily music of food and work and weather and speech right up to the last minute, so that not a single thing gets lost."Carol Shields died of cancer in 2003. She was a gifted writer, and I definitely plan on reading more of her works.