My mother has a friend with a daughter my age. The daughter doesn't like reading, so when this friend finished with her books, she brings them to our house for me, instead. It is through her that I have been acquainted with books like The Cider House Rules, Doctor Zhivago, and now, The Stone Diaries.
It's difficult to explain what The Stone Diaries is about. I could say that it's the epic saga of two families, spanning from the turn of the century to the present, but that makes it sound hideously boring. And in the hands of another, it very well could be, but truly talented authors can take the ordinary and make it relevant; they can turn an individual into a symbol of life, death, and livelihood. That is what Carol Shields has done in this book with the Fletts and the Goodwills, and that's why it won the Pulitzer.
The main character is a girl named Daisy, though for the first hundred pages she isn't even born. We are introduced to her parents, their bizarre union, and dysfunctional but comfortable lifestyle, and their relationship to their neighbors. Daisy's mother Mercy dies giving birth to her, and her father is too heartbroken and destroyed to take care of her. Constantine Flett takes Daisy with her to raise after leaving her husband. And the rest, as they say, is history.
After that, we follow Daisy through her childhood with her friends "Fraidy" and "Beans." We see her experience two marriages--one a failure, and one with a quasi-pedophile, Constantine's son, who was giving her the Eye when she was eleven and now marries her in her early thirties.
The saga continues all the way up to Daisy's death, and then we watch as her children sort through her belongings and unravel the enigmatic tapestry of her life. I suppose this just goes to show that we only really show one face of ourselves to the public, and that we are confined to the roles we play for family, friends, work. Sometimes these roles give us meaning, and sometimes they keep us from fulfilling our potential. Daisy lives her whole life doing what other people tell her to do, and she does these things well but they don't seem to make her happy: her life is one of heartbreak.
I think there are many ways to interpret The Stone Diaries. To me, this has a definitive feminist slant, with a woman ahead of her times wasting away like a flower under those who would keep her from becoming 'overgrown.' It smacks of The Awakening, Madame Bovary, and Mrs. Dalloway. Books like that annoy me as a general rule, because I don't think there's anything empowering about suicide or tragedy, and the same holds true for The Stone Diaries.
However, it really is a beautiful story, a human life that fits in the palm of your hand, and there's something touching and honest about it, something that lacks the pretentions of the aforementioned novels. So I liked this one. That's the fun thing about literature--you can read so much into it, or, if you choose, nothing at all, and just take the book at face-value.
No matter which route you take, The Stone Diaries is a worthy member of the 1001 books list.