2016: 92. The Stone Diaries

“My mother’s name was Mercy Stone Goodwill.”

This was my book club’s latest pick, the winner of the 1995 Pulitzer Prize.  I think I’d read it before, because I had a copy in my house, but I had literally no memory of it once I started re-reading.  It’s the story of the life of Daisy Stone Goodwill, from before her birth in 1905, to her death sometime in the 1990’s.  

Oh, I struggle to describe my feelings about this book.  When I finished it, I thought “this won the Pulitzer?” I felt like I’d read so many books like this, talking about a woman’s life and limitations of history etc.  But when I stepped back, I realized there are lots of books about people’s lives, but few written so gorgeously and thoughtfully. For example (pg. 91 of the Penguin paperback):

“When we think of the past we tend to assume that people were simpler in their functions, and shaped by forces that were primary and irreducible.  We take for granted that our forebearers were imbuded with a deeper purity of purpose than we possess nowadays, and a more singular set of mind, believing, for example that early scientist pursued their ends with unbroken “dedication” and that artists worked in flame of some perpetual “inspiration.”  But none of this is true. Those who went before us were every bit as wayward and unaccountable and unsteady in their longings are people are today.”

I loved that - we do think of people in the past as being fixed and determined, while, of course, they were blown by the same breezes that make us flutter about foolishly.  And there are a number of similarly insightful passages - I found myself underlining or dog-earing quotes, which I rarely ever do.

So the writing is divine.  BUT, the book purports to be Daisy’s thoughts, and her narration (though it jumps around from third to first person and back again).  And the writing as presented doesn’t comport with our understanding of the Daisy presented in the text - it’s so rich and thoughtful, and she seems like a simple - perhaps even banal woman.  But, then again, is that purposeful? To show that despite her rather ordinary existence, she had this complex inner life no one knew about?  And around and around* I (and my book club) went.

I recommend reading it - it’s short and you might breeze through it, but take the time to really think about it after.  Maybe use it for your book club.  Because it engendered much more thought and discussion than I thought could be there after I had finished it.  While it might at first seem to read like a basic “woman’s novel” - just telling you the interesting story of a woman who lived her life with the 20th century, it’s much more complex than that.

*Do not even get me started on the 109 year old man subplot.

© Carrie Dunsmore 2017