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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The Stone Diaries

The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful:

October 6, 2006

There are a lot of books out there written purely for entertainment and then are the more scholarly, "artsy" books like "The Stone Diaries" that unless they get Oprah's endorsement usually aren't read in the mainstream. These latter category of books have more freedom to experiment with different styles and techniques. This can make for an interesting story or it can make for a dull, albeit somewhat thought-provoking read. Again the latter categroy best describes "The Stone Diaries."

I hate to say a book is boring because I sound like a five-year-old trying to squirm his through an opera, but this book is BORING. The problem lies with Daisy herself. She isn't interesting. She does nothing interesting. Almost nothing interesting happens to her. Her first husband for all of two weeks gets drunk and falls out a window; that's the most interesting thing that happens to her. That and her birth in the kitchen of her father's Manitoba home when her mother was either too stupid or too lazy to find out she was pregnant. Everything else is as common and ordinary and unexciting as the lint in your dryer. She grows up, moves with her father to Indiana, goes to college, gets married and widowed, visits Ottawa, gets married again to the much-older man who helped raise her after her mother died, has three kids, gets widowed again, becomes a garden columnist, gets fired, gets depressed, gets old, gets sick, dies. The end. It almost sounds more interesting describing it that way than it reads in the book.

The most agonizing part for me is it takes the book so long to even get to Daisy. The first 90 pages of the novel go by without knowing more than basic information about her. We read nothing about her childhood except her getting sick and developing an allergy. We read nothing about her teenage years in Indiana or her time in college. We go through a good third of the book without knowing ANYTHING important about the main character of the story. We're told plenty of background about the people around her--including the life story of her dead mother--but very little about her until she's already widowed the first time and on her way to becoming the Canadian June Cleaver.

The only way to appreciate this book, especially near the end, is to think, "Daisy is like me" or someone you know. But then it's pretty depressing to think most of us are this bland and ordinary. We'd like to think we're special but if we see ourselves in Daisy then we are anything but special.

The narration for this book was confusing as well. It refers to Daisy in the 3rd person most of the time, but then throws in first-person references as well. There's also a paragraph or two halfway through saying how unreliable Daisy is as a narrator. Upon reading that, what am I the reader supposed to believe? All of this as well as the frequent time shifts, cuts to letters, "theories", recipes, notes, and so forth left me dazed, confused, and feeling empty.

Of course you can say, "This won a Pulitzer, so what do you know?" I've read many of the Pulitzer winners over the last 15 years or so and there aren't many I'd recommend reading unless you're a literary snob. I'd theorize it's because most of these winners aren't written with the intent of entertaining readers.

All in all I think there might have been a way to make this uninteresting topic interesting, but Shields doesn't do enough to make that happen. You're better served contemplating your own dull, empty life than reading someone else's.

To close, I'd like to point you to John Updike's Rabbit Angstrom books, starting with "Rabbit, Run" that chronicle a relatively ordinary person in a much more fascinating, entertaining way. The last two books in the series even won Pulitzers. There's a literary experiment that succeeded brilliantly.

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