The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields
The Stone Diaries caught me by surprise. Yes, it won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, so I should have been prepared, but it received mediocre reviews and some of the criticism was pretty harsh using words like slow, awkward, dull, and experimental. In my humble judgement, it is none of those things. It was enthralling, emotional, thought provoking, and laden with beautifully written lyrical prose.
The Stone Diaries is the life story of Daisy Goodwill Flett – an ordinary woman who lived an ordinary life as so many millions of people do. And what is the sum of one ordinary life? Birth, death, a few monumental celebrations, a few life defining moments, an occasional life altering decision, work, play, scattered memories… joy, love, pain, fear, loneliness and moments of clarity. That was Daisy’s life.
Told in segments, almost like short stories progressing in time, and sometimes skipping a decade between segments, we watch Daisy age along with her loved ones. Maybe to get the most out of this book, one would have to be a mature adult who has seriously contemplated the enigma of mortality, had a few of those clarifying moments and life altering decisions, and knows all too well of vulnerability and the difficulty of defining one’s own true purpose on Earth. Or perhaps if the reader has served as caretaker for an elderly loved one, knowing their time on earth is limited, watching them come to terms with the sum of what their life has been, their disappointments and regrets… wondering “what was the meaning of it all?”
And how much does anyone really know of another’s deepest inner being… their thoughts, their passions, their driving force. On her death bed, moments before she dies, Daisy agonizes because she is alone, “we require in our moments of courage or shame, at least one witness, but Mrs. Flett has not had this privilege. This is what breaks her heart. What she can’t bear. Even now, eighty years old.” Though her family was gathered around her, still the lack of intimacy was heartbreaking. So many barriers… so much complacency… unknown words… so little time.
I particularly enjoyed the way Carol Shields injected the opinions and feelings of several different characters, various bits of advice everyone gave Daisy, and their thoughts involving Daisy’s actions, moods, and appearance. Ironically, everyone saw things differently – biased from their own personal experiences and their own frame of reference. And isn’t that the truth of human nature? Is perception the real reality? When we are gone, are we merely the sum of the memories of others? So much to think about.
The message of the story exudes throughout the pages of the book. Most people in retrospect – when all is said and done – have pretty ordinary lives. They may have a hidden well of profound thoughts and deep emotions that were never shared or never acknowledged. Unspent passion, unfulfilled dreams, and a fleeting legacy. What is left when that person is gone… some photos, a complimentary obituary, a few mementos?
The Stone Diaries offers up some powerful advice. Do not be complacent. Cherish relationships. Share your feelings. Make that bucket list and get started on it now. Carpe Diem.
Rated 5 Stars.
All contents © 2015 Lois Weisberg. All rights reserved.