History: Published in 1993, it won the 1993 Governor General's Award for English language fiction in Canada and the 1995 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in the United States.
Plot: This book chronicles the life of Daisy Goodwill Flett, in decade separated increments. Her mother dies in childbirth, and she is raised by her neighbor, Clarentine Flett, who leaves her husband to live with her son, Barker, a scholar in botany. When she is eleven, Clarentine is fatally injured by a motorcyclist in an accident, and Daisy goes to live with her father, who is now a successful businessman in Indiana. After a decade passes, she marries a handsome alcoholic. On their honeymoon in France, he is drunk and falls out of the window. Daisy, a widow that never consummated the marriage, returns home to live with her father for the next ten years. Then she decides to take a trip back to Canada, to see Barker Flett. They were attracted to each other before, but now fall in love. We see her after ten more years, they have three children, and Daisy is very happy. Ten years later Barker has died, and Daisy begins her career as a writer of gardening tips and botany in publication. However she loses this job and falls into a deep depression, in which she spends months in her room crying. Then we see Daisy in her retirement, in Florida, keeping busy with friends, gardening, crafts. She visits the Orkneys, in which Barker Flett’s father lives still in a nursing home. Some years later, Daisy suffers a succession of health failures, and dies. Her family is at her side.
Review: Shields has a way of addressing her character's inner realities with lyrical affection and quiet irony. Because the story is told from many points of view over time, we are offered a complex, historical understanding of Daisy's life.
As the title suggests, stone is a significant and haunting image in the book, often conjuring up images of death or the inability to lend full expression or consciousness to life. After Daisy's mother (who was named Mercy Stone Goodwill) dies in childbirth, her father, Cuyler Goodwill, builds a monumental tower of stones beside her mother's grave. The sculpture becomes something of a tourist attraction. Obsessed with engraving stones both at work and after work, he forgets he is a father "for days at a time." And later, when Daisy is approaching death, it is not surprising that she thinks of stone.
At her death, Shields uses a wry mixture of hearsay, bits of conversation, recipes, check-lists, names of places Daisy has lived and books she has on her shelf, as well as funeral excerpts, ingeniously suggesting the ways in which we protect ourselves from the emotions of loss by tending to surrounding distractions.
This novel deftly explores the limits of autobiography, lucidly showing us that a life is never what it seems on the surface, even to the person experiencing it.
Opening Line: “My mother’s name was Mercy Goodwill.”
Closing Line: “Someone should have thought of daisys. Yes. Ah well.”
Quotes: “The real troubles in this world tend to settle on the misalignment between men and women – that’s my opinion, my humble opinion, as long ago learned to say.”