This is a post in my 50 Nifty series, in which I’m reading through 50 books that embody each of the 50 United States. Find out why I’m doing this and which books I’m reading when (so you can read along) by checking out my first 50Nifty post, or else browse all 50Nifty posts by clicking here!
The Stone Diaries, Carol Shields
The Stone Diaries, by Carol Shields, was a selection a couple of years ago in my Texas book club, so I must admit I didn’t read the whole thing again this time. It was enjoyable the first time around, and perusing it once again this week was a pleasure as well. Shields masterfully writes the life story of Daisy—-from birth to death–grouping periods of her life into discrete categories such as birth, childhood, and love, but also interweaving characters, foreshadowing, and flashbacks throughout, which results in an engaging but well-organized novel. Daisy is a strong female protagonist who spends her life playing the hand dealt her, finding along the way meaningful work, heartache, good friends, tragedy, mystery, and true love. (If you like this sort of book, you might also like Anna Quindlen’s latest: Still Life with Bread Crumbs.) The story is told sometimes by Daisy and sometimes by an unnamed narrator privy to the details of many of the characters close to Daisy, which sounds like it might be confusing, but actually works well.
Thumbing through my copy this week, I found myself re-reading so much more than I originally intended (that is partly why this post is so late tonight) and I have the urge to continue reading even after I’ve published this. Shields compels the reader to connect some dots–almost requiring his or her participation in the storytelling–in a way that is welcome (as opposed to some novels attempting to use the same strategy but succeeding only in confusing the reader enough to set it aside). It’s the kind of book that makes me interested in subjects I’ve never before wondered about (botany! stonemasonry!), much like David James Duncan’s novels The River Why (fly fishing) and The Brothers K (baseball). I’m always impressed when a writer can do that.
As to whether or not this should be on the 50Nifty list, while part of the book takes place in Indiana, it is Canada that claims the feeling of place that this book offers. The plants, roads, and even stones of Canada are exalted throughout, with Indiana (as I recall) being the setting of Daisy’s teenage years but not much else (aside from some references to the stones quarried there). Although I enjoyed the book and was happy to see it on the list, surely there must be some better tribute to Indiana somewhere out there? Let me know if you have suggestions!