From her calamitous 1905 birth in Manitoba to her journey with her father to Indiana, throughout her years as a wife, mother, and widow, Daisy Stone Goodwill struggles to understand her place in her own life. Now, in old age, Daisy attempts to tell her life story within a novel that is itself about the limitations of autobiography.Amazon.com Review
This fictionalized autobiography of Daisy Goodwill Flett, captured inDaisy's vivacious yet reflective voice, has been winning over readers sinceits publication in 1995, when it won the Pulitzer Prize. After a youth markedby sudden death and loss, Daisy escapes into conventionality as amiddle-class wife and mother. Years later she becomes a successful gardencolumnist and experiences the kind of awakening that thousands of hercontemporaries in mid-century yearned for but missed in alcoholism, maritalinfidelity and bridge clubs. The events of Daisy's life, however, are lesscompelling than her rich, vividly described inner life--from her memories ofher adoptive mother to her awareness of impending death. Shields' sensuousprose and her deft characterizations make this, her sixth novel, her mostsuccessful yet. ... Read more
Customer Reviews (188)
Readers react to this book across the spectrum; a consensus is elusive!
Count me in the camp who loved it and believe its Pulitzer Prize well-deserved.
Carol Shields was a gifted novelist who crafted art out of the most mundane of plots, and made this faux-biographical ordinary life a page-turner. The novel plays with storytelling style, voice, narrative form, and tone, arranged in themes that skip across time in Daisy Stone Goodwill's long and varied life.
In The Stone Diaries, Shields creates characters as dimensional and idiosyncratic as real people, illuminates the inner life of the protagonist through all life stages, explores the tenuous balance of forming and maintaining relationships in a world where we are each ultimately unknowable to one another, and examines how we navigate the events of our life with what little power and free will we have while accepting (with a mixture of fury and resignation) the twists and turns of circumstance that are thrust upon us.
The novel is a study of the Big Picture and innerspace, a reflection on our small moment in time, the acuteness of consciousness, the process of aging, and the ultimate realization that we are all special, unique mediocrities.
Daisy Goodwill's story is that of a conventional life, marked by some rather unusual events.The narration vacillates between first- and third-person, but the voice is mainly Daisy's, beginning with her obese mother's death in bearing Daisy in 1905 in rural Manitoba.Daisy's stonecutter father hands the infant off to a neighbor woman, Clarentine Flett, who leaves her husband to live with her grown son Barker, a botany professor.When Mrs. Flett dies suddenly, Barker is left in somewhat of a pickle.Since it would be unseemly for him to remain the guardian of a 12-year-old girl, Daisy's father Cuyler comes to collect her on his way to a better job in Bloomington, Indiana.His success there enables Daisy to marry a rich ne'er-do-well, but, alas, he jumps/falls from their hotel window during the honeymoon without ever consummating the marriage.(Homosexuality is assumed but never mentioned.)Daisy is now somewhat of a pariah as far as her marital prospects and decides to make a long trip, partly precipitated by her father's remarrying.The most anticipated stop in her journey is a visit to "Uncle" Barker, at least 20 years her senior, with whom she has kept a steady, though uninformative, correspondence.The book covers Daisy's entire life and is sort of a faux biography, complete with family tree and photos, the more recent of which are actually the author's children.I found these touches to be sort of playful on the author's part.As Daisy later goes on sort of a genealogical quest, I was bewildered that she never manifests any curiosity about her mother.As with real lives, some secrets are revealed along the way, and some remain buried when the one who harbors them dies.
The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields
The Stone Diaries was a good read. It provokes some reflective thinking on relationships and the meaning of life.Sometimes it makes one think that life is like a series of boxes. We close one box of our lives and open an entirerly new one and continue on until the last box. Some boxes contain happiness and some do not.Did we get a chance to choose that box?How was it delegated to us with either misery or delight? Could we have avoided the painful box and chosen another if we had been more diligent in our actions and choices? From her birth to her death, Daisy Goodwell struggled to understand her journey through life.Some of us think we exert some control but I doubt if Daisy felt she had any control and she merely accepted her fate.
A Writer New to Me
It seems strange to be discovering a Pulitzer Prizewinning writer, born five years before me, only seven years after her death.But I'm glad I did.Daisy Goodwill's birth and childhood, in a quarry-town in western Canada, are respectively singular and meager.A fatal accident on her honeymoon saves her from what promises to be a disasterous first marriage, while her second marriage is both fated and fortunate.Once comfortably lodged in the upper middle class, she has a not-too-eventful midlife, which Shields's varied sylistic approaches keep consistently interesting.Daisy's last years, however, are both typical and grim.
I can't help surmising that Daisy bears some relationship to Shields's own mother, but in any case after a rocky start she lives a life not uncommon for middle class women born at the beginning of the 20th century, when women worked only if they had to.Daisy's most fulfilling decade was when she wrote a weekly garden column for the Bloomington, Indiana newspaper under the name of "Mrs. Green Thumb."The recogniton she received for her expertise as a gardener gave her a sense of self-worth that otherwise eluded her.She was from hard-working stock, and needed meaningful work to feel fulfilled.
The author has set herself the task of showing how extraordinary an "ordinary" woman of her mother's generation could be, but she does not abandon her heroine at some suitable climax, but continues onward to old age and death, which are a distinct anti-climax, as Daisy subsides in the nursing home into memories and regrets about missed opportunities and roads not taken.One lesson I take from this ending is how much better off Shields's generation of women is in comparison to her mother's.Like Shields herself, Daisy's oldest child, Alice, is a successful academic and writer,though not necessarily any happier than her mother.
I wish I could find and include the summary of my own mother's life that I wrote at the time of her death at 101 years of age.She was born two years before Daisy, but into more fortunate circumstances as the daughter of a lawyer, and she earned a Master's degree at MIT, worked all her life as a teacher, public health official, and once again an elementary school teacher, the work she excelled at and loved the best.She married a man she considered brilliant and handsome, put him through college and graduate school, had one child (she wanted two) lived abroad several times in Europe and Mexico, was a serious amateur painter a dozen of whose canvasses are still hanging in the assisted living establishment to which she moved from her apartment at the age of ninty-three, and was still happy to be alive at 101, going for the longevity record.
She had more fulfillment in her life than Daisy Goodwill, but she had a good head-start, and was considerably more energetic and self-reliant.So much depends on the start we get in life - not only the externals of sufficient income and a solid family upbringing, but also the inner story of who loves us and who we love, and how these loves are expressed.Given the dire circumstances into which Daisy was born, she found people to love and care for her, a husband who adored her, three healthy children, material security in her adult life, and some, if not enough, fulfilling work.She deserved a better memorial than her distracted children, pre-occupied with their own troubles, were able to provide.Perhaps Shields already knew that she was fighting cancer when she wrote this bitter ending.I think Daisy - or anyone - deserves better.But that may be exactly the author's point.
Papa Was a Rolling Stone:A Review of The Stone Diaries
Modern 20th-century fiction hosts an array of unforgettable characters.The Stone Diaries cannot be included in the list, unfortunately.The novel never succeeds in infusing any life into the protagonist, Daily Goodwill Flett, a woman with an unlucky birth and whose final unspoken words are:"I am not in peace." This novel did not merit the Pulitzer prize for literature in 1995. Sadly, it lacks mojo. I imagine that the judges were either desperate for a winner that year or half-asleep when they cast their votes after a heavy, carbohydrate-laden lunch.
Stone imagery is tritely overworked throughout the narrative. Daisy's portrait, in fact, resembles that of a small gray stone of no particular distinction -- the type of stone one might throw into a still pond just to see the ripples, if nothing else.Is she notable or memorable in any way?She is about as interesting as a frozen Canadian prairie.And yet the author, Carol Shields, devoted 269 fruitless pages in an attempt to convince herself that Daisy's life was worth telling, and she leaves no stone unturned. This sad narrative begins with the moment Daisy's grossly obese and ignorant mother, Mercy Stone (hint, hint - heavy) Goodwill, discovers that she is in the midst of childbirth (!) while making a Malvern pudding in a hot Manitoba kitchen.(The book even needs a long introduction by Penelope Lively --whoever she is -- who feels obliged to inform the reader that there is significance in the references to hot kitchens interspersed throughout the story.I have yet to find anything symbolic about a hot kitchen other than the old adage: "If you can't take the heat, get out of the kitchen.") And Mercy Stone Goodwill gets out of the kitchen and out of the story mercifully and melodramatically. She dies in childbirth as a result of eclampsia, a serious disorder that results in convulsions and coma; yet, prior to her sudden death, she displays no pathological symptoms other than obesity, a desire to keep a neat house, and a propensity for calorie-laden pastries.After making a bloody mess of things, she ruins her husband's dinner, the Malvern pudding, and leaves Daisy motherless.
For the next 28 pages, the reader must tread through Daisy's uneventful and uninteresting childhood.The infant is taken under the wings of a benevolent neighbor, Clarentine Flett, who has witnessed the disturbing birth and who shortly afterwards leaves her husband because he refuses to give her money for a tooth extraction (a reason that should have been included in Paul Simon's old song, "Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover".Clarentine's farewell note is imaginative: "Good-bye".) Clarentine flees with the child to Winnipeg to live with her boring botanist professor son, Barker Flett, whose only thrill in life is his collection of lady-slippers.Barker discovers his sap rising in a Nabokovian way once Daisy reaches the tender age of eleven.Daisy, however, is definitely no Lolita.
But hold tight.More boredom is yet to come.The reader must also wade through Daisy's unfortunate first marriage to a drunken spouse who falls out of a window on their honeymoon even before the marriage is consummated, leaving Daisy in a pickle.So she and Barker Flett hitch up in a quasi-incestuous snicker of a way and then have a family of two girls and one boy.At this point, if the reader is old enough, he or she may recall the 50s sitcoms, "Leave It to Beaver", and "Father Knows Best" in which the fictional TV mothers spent a lot of time in a "hot kitchen" cooking up clever and creative meals, like hamburgers and hotdogs.Daisy, however, goes for jellied veal (yum!) and wonders why her husband and children do not ask for seconds.Maybe it's because Barker is still obsessed with his lady-slippers? (Penelope, how symbolic is that?) Is it because the oldest anglophile daughter, Alice, is busy thinking up British-sharp insults to hurl (like stones?) at every Canadian member of the family?And the son -- maybe he's intent on picking at his pimples and has lost his appetite because the jellied veal reminds him that he may undesirable, too?
This leads the reader into nine long, long years of painfully detailed botanical descriptions of flowers and gardens when Daisy takes on a local newspaper columnist role as "Mrs. Green Thumb".And at this point, we, the readers, know that Daisy has at last found her forte, her voice, her function.Perhaps it's because her boring husband, Barker, has bitten the dust, which affords Daisy an opportunity to get her mojo on with lyrical floral descriptions.She wins the admiration and respect of her readers, but OMG, are we ever in for it when a scoundrel at the newspaper takes over her job, leaving her helplessly unemployed.Daisy sinks into the darkest and deepest of menopausal depressions, becoming comatose, unresponsive to stimuli, and desperately in need of electro-shock therapy, which was, after all, popular in her day.In fact, electro-shock therapy may have been a more creative story line for Carol Shields to have followed than the one she selected. I can easily envision Daisy in the role of Olivia DeHavilland in the 40s flick, "Snakepit", in which she is shocked out of her depression, sings a moving "Going Home" song (to the tune of Dvorjak's New World Symphony), and reinvents herself as a much-needed new character in a different plot and different novel.
Nevertheless, we must follow Daisy tirelessly in her dotage and decline.She sells the house in Winnipeg (who wouldn't?) and moves to sunny Florida.In this light-drenched backdrop, she gets her groove on with plastic purses, bridge games, and predictable bluish perms. She even does a mean thing (Imagine that, Daisy being mean) on a fake plant in the foyer of her condo building.Then -- yes before you know it, Daisy is an invalid.Her physical infirmities are played upon for another good 20 - 30 pages.Finally, thank God, Daisy passes on. Shields, never one to give up a character quickly, tosses like a frisbee random tidbits and trinkets that have comprised Daisy's insignificant, unloving, stone cold life, including recipes and insipid conversational exchanges among family members.These conversations reveal underlying relief that the uncomplaining millstone around their necks is finally gone (sigh). One of her daughter remarks:"She let life happen to her."Fine.But passive characters do not pique the average reader's interest.
Daisy is one character in modern fiction that I was actually HAPPY to see die.There is not even a flicker of anything beyond the commonplace and ordinary in her life.God knows, if she had only burned her bra in the 60s or stayed stoned for a brief historical moment in the 70s, we could have appreciated the fact that she was at least breaking out of a predictable mold in which she conforms to every societal norm in the book.Must 269 pages be devoted to such a bland personality?Please, Carol Shields.I know you're dead, too, but was this novel a satire?????? If not, are we really to take all this overwritten drivel seriously?
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