Beginning with “Birth, 1905” and ending with “Death,” The Stone Diaries charts episodes in the life of middle-class wife and mother Daisy Goodwill Flett. Shields’s ambitious fictional autobiography presents life as an antinarrative, and though certain patterns and repetitions emerge—a longing for the past, the sudden arrival and equally swift departure of love and contentment—the novel succeeds with hardly any plot to propel it.
The Stone Diaries’ straightforward structure is deceptive, ordering not the slice-of-life realism a reader might expect from such chronological chapters as “Childhood, 1916” and “Marriage, 1927,” but instead a realism progressively fragmented by lists, letters, and photographs and punctuated by brief but soaring passages on time and identity. In the latter Shields accelerates toward high lyricism then backs away again, writing like a streamlined and restrained Thomas Wolfe. And while the novel is narrated by Daisy herself, the first-person narrator emerges only occasionally and as a separate entity from the character Daisy, whose life otherwise unfolds in the third person. The narrator is otherworldly and omniscient, a Daisy who exists outside time and space.