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Literature / The Stone Diaries

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The Stone Diaries is a 1993 novel by Carol Shields.

It is a fictional biography/autobiography (see Switching P.O.V. below) of Daisy Goodwill Flett, a homemaker and 20th century woman. The conceit is that the book is a biography of not an extraordinary woman who goes through a series of dramatic events in her life, but that of a relatively ordinary woman who in a sense misses out on her own life due to the rigid gender roles of 20th century North America.

Daisy is born in Manitoba in 1905 to Cuyler Goodwill, a quarry worker, and his wife Mercy Stone Goodwill. Mercy dies in childbirth and Daisy winds up in the care of a neighbor woman, Mrs. Clarentine Flett, who eventually leaves her husband and takes little Daisy to live with Mrs. Flett's grown son, Barker. When Daisy is eleven her father, who has made a career in masonry, reclaims her.

A couple of decades pass as Daisy makes friends and goes to school. She goes through a very brief and horribly disastrous marriage before reconnecting with Barker Flett, some 20-odd years her senior; they shock everyone by soon getting married. Many more years roll by as Daisy grows old, and other people flit in and out of her life, and time passes.


  • The Alcoholic: Daisy's first husband, Harold Hoad. He is drunk for the wedding, drunk throughout their honeymoon voyage to Europe, drunk every night on their European tour, and still drunk when he falls out a hotel window and dies. Daisy never consummates her marriage, which only lasts a few weeks.
  • Call-Back: Many. The book opens with "the old Jew" peddler, in 1905, finding Mercy Goodwill in great distress and running for help. Much later in the book a passage from the POV of the peddler's grandson gives his name (Abram Skutari), recounts Abram's memory of watching Mercy Goodwill die in childbirth, then tells of how the incident spurred Abram to start a business for himself and his family.
  • Death by Childbirth: Daisy's mother Mercy, who did not even realize she was pregnant, gives birth to Daisy without warning on the kitchen floor, and dies of eclampsia minutes later.
  • Epistolary Novel: Not the whole book. But the chapter titled "Work: 1955-64", detailing nine years where Daisy worked as a local newspaper columnist after her second husband died, is presented as a series of letters. The letters recount her taking the horticulture column from her late husband, how she started a romance with the newspaper's editor, and how both her romance and the column ended badly, when another reporter demanded and got the column and Daisy was left without a job.
  • Doorstop Baby: Daisy's mother was left in a basket as an infant, outside the back door of an orphanage. It was orphanage practice to christen all the doorstop babies "Stone", so Daisy's mother was named Mercy Stone.
  • Have You Tried Not Being a Monster?: Late in life Daisy is in an assisted living facility, where she is irritated by a persistent Baptist minister. Said minister eventually surprises her by admitting he is gay and in the closet. Her advice? "Have you tried not being gay."
    Reverend Rick: Being gay, Mrs. Flett, is not a question of attitude.
  • Hidden Depths: Daisy's life as a mother and housewife leave her hidden depths unknown to other people. Her son Warren thinks of Daisy only as a mom and is shocked when he stumbles across his mother's college term paper, about Camillo Cavour, 19th century Italian patriot.
  • Instant Birth: Just Add Labor!: Mercy Goodwill is making a pudding in the kitchen when, having already been suffering pains she doesn't understand, she realizes that her underwear is soaked. She gives birth moments later.
  • Karmic Death: Pinky Fulham, the guy who stole Daisy's job from her in 1964, is killed by being crushed under a vending machine, which he was shaking to retrieve a quarter. Daisy can't even pretend to be sad.
  • Late Pregnancy Realization: Daisy's mother is unaware that she's pregnant, until she goes into labor while making dinner for her husband. She gives birth on the kitchen floor and promptly dies of eclampsia.
  • Lie Back and Think of England: One of the running themes of the book is how men, in general, are clueless and useless, and part of this manifests in how women don't seem to get pleasure from the sex act. While Cuyler Goodwill is greatly turned on by his wife, the book describes "her inability to feel love", and how she basically just lies there while her husband humps away. Several chapters later, a lengthy passage describes how Daisy similarly just lies there, accepting "a few minutes of rhythmic rocking" from her husband while she's thinking about how a magazine gave advice on how to fake sexual pleasure...and then, while her husband is still bonking her, her mind wanders to the movie she just saw, The Best Years of Our Lives. Clarentine Flett thinks of being bored when she hears "a kind of grunt" at the moment of her husband's climax.
  • Mockumentary: Sort of. The book's dedication to the idea that it is a biography of Daisy Goodwill Flett includes a family tree in the beginning, and, even more surprisingly, pictures of all the fictional characters in the middle of the book. In interviews Carol Shields explained that she used older pictures that she found in archives, and her own children and family for the younger pictures.
  • Present Tense Narrative: Most, but not all, of the book is in present tense narrative, in a manner that kind of suggests traveling with Daisy through her own life.
  • Self-Deprecation: A passage from the POV of Daisy's grand-niece Victoria has her listening to a story from her professor. She says "as the story progressed he fell, egregiously, into the present tense." While that chapter ("Ease") is told in the past tense, most of the rest of the narrative is in present.
  • Slice of Life: Essentially the entire novel is a slice of life, recounting the life of one woman whose life might not have been regarded in some quarters as being interesting enough to merit a book. This theme is emphasized in the closing chapter "Death", which lists all of the addresses Daisy lived in her life, all the illnesses she ever had (from colic as a baby to strokes in old age), a list of books Daisy read in her life, to-do lists, shopping lists, and a recipe for lemon pudding.
  • Switching P.O.V.: The book starts off as Daisy's autobiography, and the first sentence is "My mother's name was Mercy Stone Goodwill." Occasionally the POV goes back to first person, like in the chapter about Daisy's first marriage where she talks about "My father"; but much of it is third person from Daisy's POV with Daisy referred to as "she". There are also third person POV passages from most of the other characters in the book, many of which describe things Daisy had no knowledge of, like how Magnus Flett missed his wife and wished she'd come home.
  • The Talk: A section from Daisy's daughter Alice's POV, in the chapter titled "Motherhood", has Daisy giving Alice The Talk. Alice is shocked and disgusted.
    This is terrible news, shocking in all its parts, of a man's peter poking inside a woman's peepee place.
  • The Unreveal: The fate of Daisy's stepmother Maria, who simply disappears with $20,000 of her husband's money when Cuyler Goodwill dies, while leaving Daisy her father's house and a lot more money. One of her friends thinks that she saw Maria on the arm of another man years later, but other than that, nothing is known.
  • Wife Husbandry: In the creepiest part of the book, Barker Flett feels sexual attraction for prepubescent Daisy, who lives in the house with him and his mother, is more than 20 years younger than him, and calls him "Uncle Barker". ("He is also the presence of eleven-year-old Daisy Goodwill in his household, the bold unselfconscious movement of her body, her bare arms in her summer dresses."). Little Daisy picks up on Uncle Barker's "long brooding sexual stare" but misinterprets it as indigestion. When a 30-year-old Daisy looks up Uncle Barker again, he proposes marriage almost immediately, and she accepts.
  • Year X: The last chapter is titled "Death". It starts with an obituary notice stating that she died "Peacefully, on —, in the month of — in the year 199—."