Revisiting Carol Shields and the Everywoman

Revisiting Carol Shields and the Everywoman

In 1994, Jay Parini wrote for the Book Review about Carol Shields’s novel “The Stone Diaries,” the fictional autobiography of Daisy Goodwill Flett as she navigates marriage and motherhood.

Here, as in her previous fiction, Ms. Shields writes with an almost painfully attuned ear for the nuances of language and the way they attach to feelings and probe the most delicate layers of human consciousness. Her words ring like stones in a brook, chilled and perfected; the syntax rushes like water, tumbling with the slight forward tilt that makes for narrative. The reader is caught in whirlpools and eddies, swirled, then launched farther downstream.

The diaries leap from decade to decade, tracing the stages of Daisy’s life: her first, tragic marriage to a boy from Bloomington, her second marriage to her old guardian, Barker, and the birth of her children. The fact that her life fits the familiar contours is, somehow, refreshing; Daisy is Everywoman, and her crises are the normal ones.

There is little in the way of conventional plot here, but its absence does nothing to diminish the narrative compulsion of this novel. Carol Shields has explored the mysteries of life with abandon, taking unusual risks along the way. “The Stone Diaries” reminds us again why literature matters.

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