“The Stone Diaries” by Carol Shields (is my Girlfriend)

WHAT THE BOOK IS ABOUT: So let’s  “Go, Go, Go Synopsis Gadget!” this sucker and then I can complain for a couple  hundred words about how we live in a cold, cruel, unjust world where THE STONE DIARIES isn’t hugged-kissed-love nearly as much as it should be. THE STONE DIARIES is a novel that spans the life of Daisy Goodwill, from her birth in Manitoba, Canada in 1905 through her death at the end of the 20th  century in a nursing home in Florida. The life that takes place during these ninety years is a heart-twisting-ripping-smashing-breaking existence consisting of sad, small quiet moments and world-turned-upside-down monumental losses.

Like, okay, let’s do an example. When Daisy’s mother, (an obese woman who doesn’t realize she’s pregnant until she gives birth like she’s on a TLC reality show that takes place in 1905) dies in childbirth, Daisy’s father passes Daisy off to a female neighbor to raise. Female Neighbor moves to the United States and Daisy’s father proceeds to not see his daughter for the next, you know, twelve years missing her entire, you know, childhood.

Should we do another example? Let’s do another example. In 1927 Daisy marries at the age of 22. Her husband up and dies during their honeymoon. Oops. This forces now-widowed Daisy to return home to her father and his incredibly annoying second wife, where Daisy plays not particularly wanted third wheel for the rest of her twenties.

Do you want to do another example? We could do like twelve or fourteen more examples but then I would give away all the book’s tragic secrets. No more secret spoilers, you have to discover all sad mysteries for yourself!

On the flip side of the “This Book Made Me Cry All Over Its Pages and Whoever Checks it Out of the Library Next is Going to be Super Pissed at Me Because All The Pages are Waterlogged” Spectrum, there are the small moments of unspoken what-the-fuck-am-I-doing-with-my-life frustrations and the crushing what-the-fuck-have-I-done-with-my-life disappointments that fill the space between the Tear-filled Nuclear Missiles and Sobbing Atom Bombs of this novel.

Everyone reading is like “Hummm, this is a lot of talk about sadness and crying for a book you supposedly actually liked…” Yes it is. It definitely is. You are absolutely right in thinking it is.  But here’s the deal. All the tragedy in this book is GORGEOUS. The prose and the plotting are Renaissance Master exquisite. And what happiness there is in this book streams through the pages like shafts of sunlight through grey clouds after a thunderstorm. This book is so lovely is almost physically hurts to read it.  At the same time the ups and downs chronicled in THE STONE DIARIES  are slap-you-in-the-face-and-punch-you-in-the-gut recognizable. I recognized the frustrations, the anxiety, the uncertainty, the regrets chronicled in the life of this woman born eighty years before me. I only wish Carol Shields would write my fictional autobiography. Then my autobiography would be so fucking pretty, I would love it so much!

In order to compensate for half of THE STONE DIARIES taking place before television existed and all of it taking place before Twitter, there’s a lot of weird experimental prose writing. Some of it is serious-times effective.  There’s a chapter that is entirely epistolary that documents a gardening column Daisy writes for her local paper for close to a decade. It’s just a twelve carat diamond of a chapter. On the flip, there’s some first person Daisy Goodwill interspersed with the third person omniscient. I was not a big fan of the grammatical-person-shifting, but it’s the one thing about this book I didn’t love, so I’m going to do what I do when my boyfriend leaves his socks all over the floor and just take a deep breath, exhale loudly, shake it off, and let it go.

So why with so much awesome-sauce and such a tiny sprinkling of bizarre person experimentation is THE STONE DIARIES not a big-ass deal? It won the Pulitzer in 1993. The Pulitzer! That’s hard to win!  Where is the Big Ass Deal Parade for STONE DIARIES?

The only logical explanation is that an Evil Literature Wizard cast a dark and powerful spell over THE STONE DIARIES cursing it to a tall tower protected by a thorn forest and guarded by a black fire-breathing dragon and plagued with not enough people checking it out of the library or getting their independent bookstore to order them up a copy. Literary types, let’s save THE STONE DIARIES from mild obscurity! Remember that huge chunk of the 20th century when no one was reading THEIR EYES WERE WATCHING GOD. Now it’s practically required you read that shit if you want to get a bachelors degree, even if you’re majoring in like psychobiology or astrophysics. Michael Chabon wrote the intro to the new edition of THE LONGSHIPS and saved that book’s Viking Ass! Hip cool literary types have been really good about saving THE DUD AVOCADO and STONER. Recently Flann O’Brien’s novels have been getting a lot of good saving as of late. Saving good books is so much fun! Haven’t you always wanted to be a part of a revolution but without the people getting shot all around you? Let’s have a THE STONE DIARIES revolution, let’s do it guys!

WHAT KIND OF GIRLFRIEND SHE IS: She is so sad and she is always having people die on her and getting almost terminally ill and every you hear thunder roll you can basically count to ten and lightning will have struck THE STONE DIARIES. But girl loves her flowers. She’s like almost borderline happy when she’s around gardening shit which is why our date is…

MY DATE WITH “THE STONE DIARIES”: We have a Garden Hanging Out and Also Kissing Party!



10 Comments on ““The Stone Diaries” by Carol Shields (is my Girlfriend)”

  1. Ellen Rhudy says:

    I tried reading this and got through one page (MAYBE one page?) before putting it under my bed and forgetting about it. That was at least five years ago, though, and as usual your enthusiasm is convincing me and with this one, it’s probably time to give it another try. Though maybe not right now, since I am weeping my way through Friday Night Lights and need to keep my reading cheerful (I have no spare tears, for the next few weeks they are reserved solely for members of the Dillon football team), to books about…girls murdering their best friends, and outlaws and fantasy novels in which the whole world is about to come crashing down. Shit, maybe I should be reading The Stone Diaries.

  2. Katie (Blog from Bookstores) says:

    It sounds like it’s a shame that this book sort of got lost along the way. (Damn those Evil Literature Wizards!) It sounds like something I would enjoy so I’m totally up for helping it make a comeback! Adding it to my “To Read” list now! (P.S. Totally jealous of your Garden Hangout!)

  3. Heather says:

    I have to admit that I had never heard of this book until you started tweeting about it. It is now officially on my wishlist.

  4. The Stone Diaries is one of my favorite books. I love it! I must read it again soon. It might be a bigger deal here in Canada.

  5. Sounds pretty much fantastic. If only my reading list weren’t a mile long already…but I’ll stick it on there because you love it so much!

  6. Why haven’t I read this book? Note to self: make garden date with The Stone Diaries ASAP. This book definitely needs you as much as you need it. Thanks for your lovefest/review.

  7. Christy says:

    Oh hoorah! I read this book almost ten years ago and thought the writing was pretty awesome, but you’re right, I rarely see it discussed anywhere! Not even sure what made me pick up the book. I think it was just a serendipitous find on the library shelf. I’ve tried reading a couple of Shields’ other books and haven’t liked them, so I’ve been pondering re-reading The Stone Diaries to see if I still like it as much as I did when I was younger. I seem to remember that the father was obsessed with memorizing ‘Jane Eyre’? Also, I remember my favorite (but also sad) chapter was the one where it listed all these tiny things the main character did not do in her life.

  8. Ti says:

    I loved this book when I first read it. I want to say Oprah had it for a book club once. Anyway, I was reading your review, knowing that I had read it before yet NOTHING came back to me as my memory has gotten a bit swiss-cheesy when it comes to books read prior to my blogging stint.

  9. […] funny, the titles are so similar, in so many ways this book reminded me of Carol Shield’s THE STONE DIARIES , which I recommended this past August. Both follow the sad and quiet lives of individuals in […]

  10. Care says:

    I put The Stone Diaries on my wish-list after reading a luke warm review somewhere because it looked like my perfect kind of book. And it IS! Read it a couple of months ago and absolutely fell hard in love with the dark humor or the humor in the matter-of-fact way the prose told the story of all the bad shit happening. One of my tip top reads in 2011. So yes, bring on the book love.

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