“The Stone Diaries” by Carol Shields (is my Girlfriend)Posted: August 2, 2011
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!