The Stone Angel offers a portrait of a remarkable character who at age ninety confronts her mortality and is terrified, for all she can see behind her is a wasteland of personal failures. Yet her terror becomes the necessary catalyst for a change of heart and a measure of grace that marks her final days.
Hagar Shipley looms large on nearly every page. The novel works mainly through the flashback memories of a ninety-year-old matron who faces the need for a nursing home. Her case is terminal, but she is not ready to die. Too many ghosts from the past haunt her memories and preclude peace for facing the future. Those ghosts are exposed through a skillful interweaving of past and present that cumulatively render an insightful examination of a fallen angel whose overweening pride led her into self-exile.
Hagar loses her mother early in life. She never makes her peace with that death. Yet her imperious, prominent, and self-made father tolerates no weakness of any kind; thus Hagar learns to shut the valves of emotion and live a life of negation and stoicism. Strong-willed like her father, she defies him when she comes of age and chooses to marry Bram Shipley, a good-looking but, in her father’s eyes, good-for-nothing widower with two children who lives on a rundown homestead that never would afford anyone a decent living. No family member attends Hagar’s wedding, and Hagar’s family relationship is never restored. Besides, she soon discovers that she has made a terrible mistake. Bram has no intention of being made over by a snooty young woman who has finishing-school and pedigree credentials and pretensions of a superior sophistication. Instead, Hagar finds herself dragged down by his crudeness, poverty, and hopeless future. Still, they have two sons together: Marvin, whom she hardly acknowledges as her own, and...
(The entire section is 754 words.)