In her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Stone Diaries, Shields depicts the life of her fictional heroine, Daisy Goodwill Flett, by gathering the bits and pieces of that life into a form that resembles an autobiography or personal diary. This arrangement allows her to comment on the nature of autobiography and the fragmented ways in which one person must piece together his or her own life. The text is divided into sections reflecting the major events of Daisy’s life: “birth,” “childhood,” “love,” “marriage,” “motherhood,” “work,” “sorrow,” “ease,” “illness and decline,” and “death.” The neatness of these descriptors, however, is overshadowed by the slipperiness of memory and consequence. As the narrator says at the beginning of the novel:The recounting of a life is a cheat, of course; I admit the truth of this; even our own stories are obscenely distorted; it is a wonder really that we keep faith with the simple container of our existence.
Throughout the retelling of Daisy’s life, the reader may wonder how Daisy knows the information that she recalls. Furthermore, narrative shifts occur periodically throughout the novel, sometimes altering the point of view to another character’s perspective. Other times, Daisy is clearly speaking as the first-person narrator. Other disruptions include newspaper articles inserted in the text, as well as letters, dialogue, lists, and even photos. These disruptions put the onus on the reader to piece together Daisy’s life, even as Daisy proposes to be the person telling her story. Though in diary format, the reader has more information about Daisy than she has about herself.
The novel opens with Daisy’s unlikely retelling of her unusual birth. Her mother, Mercy Stone, an orphan whose last name becomes synonymous with the local industry—stonecutting—is immensely fat as well as naïve about the physiology of her own body. Thus, Mercy conceives and carries to term her daughter, Daisy, without anyone, including herself, knowing she was pregnant. As a result, Daisy is born to an unprepared mother who dies in childbirth. Her neighbor, Clarentine Flett,...
(The entire section is 883 words.)