Shields’s initial recognition as a novelist was the Arthur Ellis Award for best Canadian crime novel of 1987 for Swann: A Mystery (1987). Awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1995, The Stone Diaries is the seventh novel by Shields, whose poetry, drama, essays, and travel writing are also recognized to be excellent. Her poetry, like much of her fiction, centers on familiar suburban experience, examining closely the effects of time within singular moments. Nor does the fact that she is a playwright surprise the reader of her novels; her scene-by-scene descriptions and believable dialogue suggest her works’ adaptability to stage or film. One of her plays, Thirteen Hands (1993), is about women who gather to play bridge and share stories. They are the older middle-class women who so often feel invisible in a culture obsessed with accoutrements of eternal youth and flashy possession. The play, like Shields’s novels, examines the ordinary caring among women.
Lest any reader decide that Shields writes “women’s fiction,” the critical reception of her novel after The Stone Diaries, Larry’s Party (1997), should disprove such an assumption. Her male protagonist, Larry Weller, moves through his own work and relationships, putting his past into meaningful context with his quiet and suburban present. In analyses of Weller, critics cite similarities to John Updike’s Rabbit Angstrom.
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