marginalia || The Stone Diaries, by Carol Shields

Carol Shields is one of my favorite writers. Her short stories are little gems: well-written, a little quaint, definitely charming. And very very human. And what I like most about Shields is that whenever I read her, there’s an itch to write something of my own. I can’t explain this–probably her own obvious fascination with the craft, with people. I love reading her because she’s got this thing that just makes me want to write myself. Heh.

But that’s her short stories. Her novels are a completely different matter. I’ve only read Unless, and it was damned good, but I’ve been strangely evasive with her novels. About a week ago, feeling quite a heavy stare from her Pulitzer winner, The Stone Diaries, I gave in and just read.

I was greatly rewarded. For one, her language is just so good–the prose is every beautiful thing at the right time. The characters linger with you long after you’ve staggered from the novel. And Shields is a writer to envy.

From Little Red Moley:

* * *


—a novel by CAROL SHIELDS

There’s always something charming and quaint and poignant when I am in Shields’s world. She has a voice—I am taken back to my encounters with her short stories, which I absolutely love. Shields’ voice is one that I have, unsuccessfully, tried to imitate. Oh, her prose is just so beautiful. And funny. Heh.

She experiences scalding attacks of flatulence, especially at night, as she lies next to my father, who, out of love, out of delicacy, pretends deep sleep–she can tell from the way he keeps himself curled respectfully to his own side of the bed.

I am loving the faux-omniscient tone the novel has. It’s Daisy Goodwill narrating her life—from birth to death, into the minds of her family and friends. It’s goddamned clever, and it’s so effective, and I am so envious.

Her inability to feel love has poisoned her, swallowed down along with the abasement of sugar, yeast, lard and flour; she knows this for a fact.

I’m barely into the story, and I’m already abusing quotewhoreage:

She is a woman whose desires stand at the bottom of a cracked pitcher, waiting.

. . . the houses of the newly married, she sense, are under a a kind of enchantment, the air more tender than in other households, the voices softer, the makeshift curtains and cheap mugs brave and bright in their accommodation.

Oh, Mercy. Oh, Cuyler who loves you (most of the time inappropriately). I am just completely charmed by this couple, how Cuyler is so madly in love with Mercy. And, dammit, but Mercy dies too soon. Phooey. With every beautifully crafted sentence that shares Cuyler’s rapture—the author is decidedly breaking this reader’s heart.

♦ I’ve quite fallen in love with the characters, even those I though I won’t even like. Shields makes everyone so human by giving us a glimpse of their heartaches. Take Magnus Flett, the husband Clarentine abandons. When Clarentine leaves, Magnus finds among her things books. Books about women, books about women and the men in love with them. Oh, he finds Jane Eyre, which:

. . . was his favorite; there were turnings in the story that filled the back of his throat with smarting, sweet pains, and in those moments he felt his wife only a dozen heartbeats away, so close he could almost reach out and stroke the silkiness of her inner thighs.

That’s classic, dammit. [Later, we find that Magnus had lived to a ripe, ol’ age, and that he’s memorized Jane Eyre by heart. That just made my soul smile.]

♦ I just finished reading it. It’s such a beautiful book. So beautiful. A little calm. Quite quaint in its calmness, actually. There are no high passions—this is not a bad thing. No extreme conflict and heartache. That’s awesome. Heartbreak of ordinary things. The narration of Daisy, sometimes so close, sometimes so distance. The toying of memory, of perception. All the letters and the phone calls, the conversations in bedrooms and kitchens and porches. Helps that the language is just so breathtaking. Augh. I don’t even know what my final, wrap-it-up thoughts are. That is, of course I loved it, but how can I even articulate this?

And the question arises: what is the story of a life?  A chronicle of fact or a skillfully wrought impression? The bringing together of what she fears? Or the adding up of what has been off-handedly revealed, those tiny allotted increments of knowledge?

So beautiful. I just have to sit back and sigh.

8 thoughts on “marginalia || The Stone Diaries, by Carol Shields

    1. My experience with this novel was start-and-stop, actually. I’d tried to read it before, but only succeeded now. So yes, I suppose for me, the time was right.

  1. I was not a big fan of this novel, even though I enjoyed her writing. I’m glad it worked for you, and I would like to read more Shields in the future. I love finding authors who inspire me to write more because there are certainly plenty who amaze me and make writing seem so out of reach. It’s a wonderful feeling when a book gives you the urge to write. Enjoy!

    1. It was slow going even before I started, but once I was into it, it was hard to get away. Carol Shields will always be close to my heart–especially her short fiction. So rare to find a writer who makes you want to write, and not just awe you. Awe is fun. But emulation rocks more, me thinks.


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