Wednesday, February 6, 2008

The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields

The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields
Fiction, 361 Pages, Penguin Books
1995 Pulitzer Prize Winner

Cross posted here

And the question arises: what is the story of a life? A chronicle of fact or a skillfully wrought impression?
The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields tells of the life of Daisy Goodwill. It is a fictional autobiography, which at times, seems more like a biography. This is due to the fact that the narration shifts continually from one point of view to another. At first, I found this confusing. But I gained a better understanding when reading an interview with the author. As she explains:
“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.”
When we attempt to describe, or more to the point, define ourselves, how is it that this is accomplished? Is it easier for us to do it in the first person, or try to be objective and write it as if we were simply an observer?

The author has chosen to use both methods. For example, here is Daisy writing about “Daisy”:
The acts of her life form a sequence of definitions, that’s what she tells herself…Sometimes she looks at things close up and sometimes from a distance…Still, hers is the only account there is, written on air, written with imagination’s invisible ink.
This is what makes the narrative so intriguing. It is not simply Daisy’s life we learn about; it is her mind, her thoughts, as they drift through her memories picking out the good and the bad, relating them as one women’s story; her journey towards self-discovery. I was particularly struck by the following passage:
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…the fulcrum of desire, or of necessity.
I cannot say whether or not Daisy Goodwill ever found what she was looking for. Carol Shields creates a story that is very realistic in its intent, but she did not develop a character I could grow close to and learn to understand. However, as Daisy never truly knew herself, it would be presumptuous of me to think that I could do any better.

For me, this is a book about exploring one’s life, and self, in order to determine the meaning behind both. And even though I could not connect with the person of Daisy Goodwill - her story and the way in which it is written, challenges me to think of my own life, and more importantly my place in it.

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