Description

Carol Shields (1935-2003) was born in Oak Park, Illinois. She studied at Hanover College, the University of Exeter in England, and the University of Ottawa. In 1957, she married Donald Shields and moved to Canada permanently. She wrote ten novels and three short story collections, in addition to poetry, plays, criticism, and a biography of Jane Austen. Her novel The Stone Diaries won the Pulitzer Prize, and the National Book Critics Circle Award.

 


Review

This Pulitzer prize winning novel is the fictionalized autobiography of Daisy Goodwill Flett. It is a subtle but affecting portrait of an everyday woman reflecting on an unconventional life. What transforms this seemingly ordinary tale is the richness of Daisy’s vividly described inner life–from her earliest memories of her adoptive mother to her awareness of impending death.

 


Study Questions

(If you want to make a comment about this book, please scroll down to the box at the bottom of the page.)

1.  Do you think anything like this could really happen in a single lifetime or is this a montage of “one off” events?

2. Does there seem to be something missing in Daisy that causes her to keep falling short of happiness or do you think she ever was genuinely happy?

3. Was Mrs. Flett, who later took the infant Daisy, justified in leaving her husband because he wouldn’t pay for her trip to the dentist? Do you believe he was holding out because these problems had resolved in the past?

4. Was the transformation of Cuyler Goodwill believable or should it be taken as a writer’s license?

5. What were Daisy’s strong points and weak points?

6. Is there a macguffin in this book? If so, what? Or could there be two?

7. Was there anyone in the book who might have led a happy and successful life?

8. How would you characterize the relationship between Daisy and the editor who made possible and then took away the Mrs. Green Thumbs column?

9. Is the author using the life of Daisy and her female friends and relatives to describe a wide array of things that can happen in a woman’s life except true happiness?

10. Did you end up liking Daisy?

 


Discussion

You say “Ah well” to indicate that you accept a situation that you or someone else is not happy with, but you move on. You decide it’s not too bad and besides, it can’t be changed. You express feelings, ah well, it could be worse. She lived her life and now she’s dead. ‘—’Oh well. This is a fitting last sentence for a work about a woman’s life and the events, people, and emotions she experienced. In it the author sets the stage with hyperbole describing strange people and tells us of the even stranger birth of Daisy Goodwill.

Carol Shields at age 58 wrote 366 pages and 100,000 words plus or minus without a single uplifting (upbeat) moment – none! The book was an exaggerated accounting of a life that after some interim success just misses every time in the end. To get things started on the “wrong track” an orphan given a generic name “Stone”, which is also the McGuffin, is a morbidly obese woman who gives birth to the protagonist without even knowing she is pregnant and in the process dies on her kitchen floor in an unattended birth.

With that start the infant Daisy Goodwill lives a long life touched by bizarre events like a new husband falling to his death on the 10th day of their marriage while honeymooning in France. To make matters worse, this event likely occurred when the hapless husband was startled by Daisy’s sneeze. This factoid was never revealed to anyone by Daisy. Then putting an exclamation point on this dismal brief union between an ordinary looking girl and a movie star handsome young man, the marriage was not consummated. Daisy was a married woman who had never been “de-flowered”.

She later married her “uncle” (no blood relation) ten years later entering the marriage a virgin but as a dutiful though passive partner in bed. This was a continuation of the sexually/sensuous theme introduced in the book by the behavior of Daisy’s parents.

There is little need to recount the never-ending disappointments in Daisy’s life that could only lead to more “Oh wells”. Everything that happened sorely disappointed except for grandniece Victoria who seemed to have done all right, at least comparatively so.

Looking for something good, if you the reader have ever been happy about something that turned out well be grateful, you are one step ahead of Daisy Goodwill.

This book was not a favorite of the readers. Several elected to not finish.


By Gene Helveston

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