Mar 1, 2010

The Stone Diaries, by Carol Shields

I initially read this book because it was the chosen book for my library's new book club that I joined, but was unfortunately unable to attend the session. It's a shame, really, because I would have liked to hear what others thought of this unique novel.

The book follows, essentially, the life (birth through death) of Daisy. But it does so much more than that, as it also intimately details the lives of her various ancestors, both blood related and related by marriage, and of her children and other relatives. The narration is mostly in the third person, with short splatterings of the first person to highlight certain momentous occasions in Daisy's life. What is so remarkable about this book is the omniscience of the narrator. Yes, it is Daisy, and yes, most third person novels have omniscient narrators, but not quite like this one. Every single person is dissected, but not dispassionately at all. Their true inner desires are laid bare, aspects of their souls even they themselves know little about.

In contrast, oddly, Daisy is almost an empty shell, up until her imminent death. Defined largely by the relationships she holds to other people, it is not until she has no one left to take care of nor is even able to care for herself that she allows herself to become an individual. Even then, she maintains her outwardly, polite demeanor. Even when she is hit by months of severe depression, for which we get her numerous loved ones' theories, her own reality is that she enjoys wallowing in her own being. She is not really, truly depressed, she just wants to not have to deal with life for a while.

As I got further and further into the book, I kept thinking how much it reminded me of "2001: A Space Odyssey". Odd, I know, but this is why: both works follow a thread through a period of time (in one, it is a life, in the other, it is the life of man); both start with the ancestor and work their way into death, which is really a sort of rebirth; both have that odd, outsider yet omniscient, almost glassy feeling to them (this is incredibly hard to explain). And when I got to the end, I was creeped out to find the same song that Hal sings as he dies printed during the chapter entitled "Death". Call me crazy, but I think the movie was a slight influence for the book.

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