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The Stone Diaries
Carol Shields

 
An Interview with Carol Shields

What were you trying to accomplish in The Stone Diaries? It seems to be the autobiography of a woman who wasn't there.

I was interested in the notion of autobiography and, in particular, the idea of women's life stories. A lot of women are erased from their lives, sometimes as a result of their own actions and attitudes, but mostly for societal reasons. The saddest thing about women like Daisy Goodwill is that they didn't know what was owed them. They didn't have the words to say "I want." Ninety-nine percent of the women of Daisy's generation never claimed their own lives. Only a few women did—and we have novels about them.

Although it purports to be the autobiography of Daisy Goodwill Flett, The Stone Diaries includes the stories of many other characters as well, and occasionally presents information that Daisy is unlikely to know.

I wanted to have a lot of other voices filtering in and out, representing Daisy's fantasies of what other people imagined about her. We all wonder how other people see us, and Daisy is no exception. I also wanted to include legend along with facts. The birth scene, for example. Daisy wouldn't remember her own birth, but doubtless she heard stories about it, remarkable as it was, just as I used to hear stories about my birth when I was a child. I remember my mother would always say, "You slipped out just like a lump of butter!" [Laughter]

Is The Stone Diaries meant to represent Daisy's real life? To fill in the gaps that the people around her missed?

Well, you know we all carry around in our heads what we think is our life story. When I read back over my manuscript, I saw that Daisy had somehow leaped over her experiences with childbirth, sexual initiation, and education. But that's how life stories are. It's as though you end up your life with a boxful of snapshots. They may not be the best ones, but they're the ones you have. All the other pictures are in an album somewhere.

Speaking of pictures, what about your novel's photo section? It's a highly unorthodox touch that further pushes the envelope between fiction and autobiography. How did you come up with it?

When I read real biographies, I always turn to the photos in the middle. I'm always checking the image against the text. I found the photo of the Ladies Rhythm and Movement Club at a small country museum here in Manitoba. The photos of Daisy's grandchildren are actually of my own children. I asked them for permission, of course.

The idea of a woman being erased from her own life seems almost unbearably sad, but The Stone Diaries doesn't read like a sad book.

One of the things that redeems Daisy's life is her friendships with other women. Lifelong friends like Beans and Fraidy, along with the bridge club companions of her later years. Sometimes I think that those "bridge club biddies" were forerunners of consciousness-raising groups. They were early feminist cells.

In one interview you're quoted as having an interest in "subversive fiction." Is The Stone Diaries a subversive novel? In what way?

I love writing novels because the novel is such an accommodating form. You can do such a lot within one. I suppose a contemporary novel isn't supposed to rely too heavily on coincidence and synchronicity, but The Stone Diaries is filled with coincidences. So are most people's lives. I like to collect stories of other people's coincidences because I suspect that that's how the universe really works. Everything I've read about chaos theory bears this out. For a while I was worried because The Stone Diaries didn't seem to have a plot. And then I read an interview with Patrick White-I love Patrick White-in which he says, "I never worry about plot. I worry about life going on toward death."

What are you working on presently?

I'm writing a novel about work. I love the idea of work, the things people actually do for a living, and I've always been struck by the fact that in most novels people aren't working. I'd like to look at that.