Friday, September 2, 2016

The Stone Diaries

A friend passed this book on to me several years ago and it got shelved before I ever read it. But I've read it now and am tempted to turn back to the beginning and read it again this very minute. 

It's a wonderful multi-layered evocation of a woman's life that explores all the people who have been important to her,  rambling down byways in narrative, dialogue, letters, and lists to tell us more about her family and others whose lives touched hers.

It's just my cup of tea. I find that when I write, I keep realizing that even very minor characters must have their own backstories and I have to restrain myself from getting too far afield.

Shields' novel not only reminds us that everyone has a story but it also reminds us that we can never know another person fully -- there is always more. She suggests too that we may not even know ourselves as well as we think.

She uses this bit of a poem as an epigraph -- and it's perfect.

              nothing she did
              or said

              was quite
              what she meant

              but still her life 
              could be called a monument

              shaped in a slant
              of available light

             and set to the movement
             of possible music
                                                 from "the Grandmother Cycle"
                                                    by Judith Downing

Oh, and it won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award.

This is such a good novel, so rich in description and so full of love for the characters. Even, perhaps, for the overbearing mother-in-law to be who invites the daughter-in-law to be for a nice little private luncheon, so she can give her a few tips on how to behave, since the young woman's mother died at her birth and she hasn't had a mother to tell her these things. 

Important things like saying 'death' instead of 'passing away;'' always turning the knife blade in at a place setting;' the importance of giving her husband Grape Nuts for breakfast so he will  stay regular; never serve tomato juice at breakfast; white shoes are worn only between Memorial Day and Labor Day; never use a bidet in a foreign hotel.

This is such a fine novel. I can't recommend it highly enough.


jennyfreckles said...

I have a feeling I might have read that once years ago - but it will go on my retirement list to read again. Oh, I am SO looking forward to having more time to read!

Merisi in Vienna said...

I have read this book, and loved it. I love all the books she wrote and published.
I remember listening to her one last time on the Diane Rehm show. So sad she had to leave way too early.

Stella Jones said...

I shall put it on my reading list Vicki. Thanks for the recommendation.

Frances said...

Vicki, i appreciate your recommendation of this book, which did pass me by when it was first published.

Now, I have added it to my list of books to be read. I laugh to remember that when I retired last spring, I thought I would find time for everything, including lots of reading. I was foolish then not to realize how many interests I have, and how many of them jostle for the use of my eyes. (You might find this a timely comment.

Just this morning, I checked out a beautiful new book, in its design and content, by A.S. Byatt, titled Peacock and Vine, about two artists I admire, Wm Morris and Mariano Fortuny. I started reading it on the subway ride right after checking it out. Now, at home, I will have to allow it to share time with Pat Barker's Regeneration. And painting, drawing and knitting. Oh, blogging, too.


NCmountainwoman said...

Well now you've done it again, Vicki. I just ordered The Stone Diaries. As if I really need another book on my to-be-read shelves. But I strongly suspect you have just as extensive a collection yourself and your recommendations have not steered me wrong before.

Vicki Lane said...

I love A.S. Byatt and Wm. Morris -- another book for my list . . .

I'll look forward to hearing what you folks think of this book if you read it.