"The Stone Diaries"

The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields

I know this won't win me any friends among Canadian readers, but I don't like Carol Shields writing. Granted I've only read this one through to the end. A few years ago I started another one and didn't like it either so I quit about a quarter of the way in. I suspected at the time I was not a "good" reader and that her books were over my head.  I've gained some "reader confidence" since then and learned that it's ok to not like certain styles of writing just on the basis of personal taste. Hence the freedom I feel to hate Ulysses by James Joyce without guilt, but that's a whole other story.

This novel follows the life of Daisy Goodwill from her birth in her mother's kitchen in 1905 to her death in the 1990s. It wasn't an ordinary life, if there even is such a thing. She never knew the mother who died bringing her into the world. She was raised by a neighbour until circumstances changed, requiring Daisy to go home and live with her father. At that point she is eleven years old and she and her father are complete strangers to one another. Each chapter is titled for a specific stage of her life: Birth, Childhood, Marriage, Love, Motherhood, Work, Sorrow, Ease, Illness and Decline, and Death.

I found the gaps too long between some of the chapters. For example, the "Childhood" chapter ends in 1916, just as she reconnects with her father, then that chapter comes to an end and the next one "Marriage" begins with her as a bride-to-be at 22 years of age. I think gaps like that are what prevented me from arriving at a place where I would care about the characters and how things would turn out for them. The story itself is good and the writing as well, I just couldn't get invested in any of the people in the story.

I found some rather odd figures of speech in this book. They're in the right places and at the right times; my problem is that I just don't understand them. There must have been fifty times throughout the book that I came to a metaphor and stopped, wondering what the heck did that mean. I love creativity, but I think this authour and I are on different wave lengths. I'll give you a few examples:

1. In talking about a professor she said "He rides straight up the walls of his sentences."
2. "For Abram Skutari......religion is an open window as well as the curtain with which he darkens the window"
3. "...the word 'woe' made them fall over laughing, such a blind little bug of a word"
4. "...if she says 'So you two gals are out on the town, huh?' then aunt Daisy will say, shaping her mouth into soft ovals of confederacy...." 
5. "Vanity refuses to die, pushing the blandness of everyday life into little pleats, pockets, knobs of electric candy."

I could think through some of these and figure out what she might have meant, (the word "woe" is bug-like though I don't know how it's blind, and maybe I have some idea what "a soft oval of confederacy" looks like) but I can't come up with any connection between "the blandness of every day life" and "electric candy"  (electric candy?).  As something that should paint a clearer picture for the reader or help us understand a situation more easily, these metaphors and others in this book didn't work for me.

I don't know if I'll read anymore of Carol Shields' books or not. I think I'd like to try one more, but it's way down on my priority list now. I know that a lot of people love her writing so definitely give it a try. I didn't "get" her at all, but you might not have that problem. Would love to hear what you think.


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