The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields part 2

The great thing about book club is that once you have heard other people talk about a book and tried to put your own thoughts into words, sometimes after the session I have my ideas about the book more ordered and am able to articulate them more clearly. So, there are four things I would like to add to my understanding about the book:

  1. Deborah Levy talks about creating female characters in the 3rd part of her autobiography Real Estate. She wants to be able to write better female parts and considers where these characters don’t work. She explores the notion that sometimes these characters are missing – they are there in the book but we don’t know anything about their wants and desires and so really the character is just an outline with nothing filled in. This is exactly what Shields did with Daisy in the Stone Diaries. We know nothing more about her when we finished the book but we know almost everything that people around her thought and whilst they filled up the pages they did not fill up the character. She was the empty box that Shields described in an interview.
  2. Stone is obviously important to the book but I couldn’t see beyond the literal and obvious about it. There was one part of the book that stood out for me in Marriage when her father gave a speech about how stone is formed for his wedding day speech. I was left thinking what a strange thing to talk about – how all these billions of little creatures live then die, sink to the bottom of the ocean in layers swished around by the waves and solidify. When we get the stone we can see small imprints of shells, leaves and other objects. I think at this point Shields is telling us how our lives are like stone constructed out of tiny little things (thoughts, ideas, feelings) that sink and gradually solidify over time leaving only small imprints. This stone is then hacked out of the ground and used to build a tower, a pyramid or a monument and carved to represent your life (by a man) as if the indentations and impressions your thoughts and ideas left were of no relevance. And really, it is also saying that your life really only begins when you marry.
  3. In an interview Shields says she popped into Daisy’s life every 10 years or so over a century and tried to reflect the things that were happening at that time. Some of these I could pick out, others passed me by and I didn’t have time to go back and look again at the social times but here are the ones we did find:
    • Birth – child birth at home and the ice chest to keep food cold
    • Childhood –
    • Marriage – first solo flight by Lindbergh
    • Love – WWII and the Great Depression
    • Motherhood – magazines telling you how to be a good wife, the idea of father coming home and everything being ready and welcoming for him
    • Work – Wife going out to work once husband has died, unmarried mothers
    • Sorrow – children moving away to work and study, women working and being mothers
  4. The section where Daisy marries for the first time and sneezes her husband to his death because he was drunk and sitting on a windowsill is quite a shock. Daisy has always refused to talk about the event afterwards and with what we know about her husband the suspicion is that really the sneeze had nothing to do with it. Going back to point 1, for Daisy to talk about this event we would have to hear what she thinks and feels about it and that would be filling in the character so she doesn’t say anything.

This book has had quite an impact on my reading of books after it. What a brilliant book.

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