The Stone Diaries is (are?) an account in diary-like format of the life of the fictional Daisy Goodwill Flett, from her birth up until her death. She is born in 1905 and lives into her 90s, and the book therefore covers the majority of the 20the century. Daisy is a sort of Everywoman: she marries twice, has children, has a career, suffers disappointments, and her achievements are modest. And her story is utterly compelling.
Throughout the book, Shields displays a highly adaptable style. She gives the diary a veneer of veracity by including letters, articles, and even recipes, all with a distinctive voice carefully picked according to the era and the characters writing. As Daisy changes, so does her voice, and I felt by the end as if I had got to know her intimately.
Although the book occasionally hits one over the head with its imagery (the symbolism of stone and flowers within the book is spelled out multiple times, almost as if Shields were trying to highlight the artificiality of the metaphor), it is deftly written and complex in its presentation of humanity. The Pulitzer judges clearly agreed: The Stone Diaries was published in the US in 1994, and won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1995. Shields’ dual nationality of the US and Canada made her eligible for both prizes. I admired the extent to which Shields made me invested in her protagonist, and consider this a little gem within the shortlisted works I have read.