The characters of Shields’s novel most often are fully realized individuals but are most important in revealing facets of Daisy.
Daisy Goodwill Hoad Flett is the ultimately unknowable center of the book, a mystery who is explained, commented on, and loved by her friends and family. Shields, with a touch of Magical Realism, uses Daisy’s point of view to describe her own birth as well as her parents’ courtship and early married life, providing details unknowable to her. Daisy’s life is colored by the sadness of her birth, a unique and orphaned memory with which Daisy feels burdened during her middle and later years. Her unknowable center is emphasized by Shields via Daisy’s close relationship to her college friends Fraidy and Beans. They are great friends, but she does not tell them about her sneeze in the moment before her first husband, Harold A. Hoad, fell out of the hotel window. Daisy withholds her essential self from all those the reader expects to be closest to her.
Cuyler Goodwill is Daisy’s father, a man who knew a loveless childhood but develops a passionate attachment to Mercy Stone Goodwill, Daisy’s mother. Cuyler works in stone, whereas Daisy gardens and cooks. Cuyler develops the kind of love and passion his daughter misses all of her life. He is, however, like his daughter in his ability to present representations of life; his excellent speaking skills, for example, are displayed at Daisy’s graduation from college.
Barker Flett is, throughout his life, a man who unfailingly does what is expected of him; but Shields enters the essential self of this character in her description of his passion for Daisy as an eleven-year-old. The fixation on such a young girl is one that Barker only minimally admits to himself; his self-consciousness about desire, sex, and passion leads him to miss a dance with Daisy “through the back door, out into the garden, down the street, over the line of the horizon,” a dance described to her at a safe distance, in a posthumously opened letter.
Fraidy Hoyt represents the friends that Daisy makes over the years. Fraidy is first a college friend, and throughout her life she corresponds with, travels with, and visits with Daisy. Fraidy is the college friend who first experiments with sex and continues to enjoy different partners. She theorizes that Daisy’s depression in 1965 stems from sexual repression, and she thinks of telling the one-man (so she thinks) Daisy about her own “army of fifty-four . . . a small smartly marching army with the sun shining on their beautiful heads and shoulders.”
Shields provides labeled pictures of many of the characters, but notably absent is Daisy herself, again ultimately unknowable. The pictures include postcards and photographs purchased in antique shops as well as pictures of Shields’s own children. The pictures raise as many questions for a reader as they answer, but especially fitting are the conventional pose of Beans Anthony and the nude sketch of Fraidy Hoyt (a sketch credited to one of Fraidy’s lovers, a professor).
Daisy Goodwill, our primary narrator in The Stone Diaries, realized early in life that "if she was going to hold on to her life at all, she would have to rescue it by a primary act of imagination." She synthesizes and edits events, and fantasizes the rest, serving as a witness to her own life and creating an "autobiography" compiled from legends, letters, speculation, contemplation, vagueness, and even outright avoidance of certain events. Often Daisy herself is left out of the story. There are no photographs of her, no letters from her, no gardening columns written by her. Sometimes information is given that Daisy is unlikely to have known, but Shields provides many voices and viewpoints representing Daisy's fantasies of what other people imagine about her. These witnesses, such as the neighbor Clarentine Flett, the Jewish peddler, Abram Gozhde Skutari, the newspaper editor, Jay Dudley, often provide a different vantage...
(The entire section is 3,432 words.)