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Book Club Wed Feb 03 2010

The Stone Diaries Discussion Questions

From the story of a dysfunctional family in The Corrections to the story of one woman's atypical life in The Stone Diaries, I think we have inadvertantly picked the perfect second book for the year. I'm very interested to hear what everyone thought of this pseudo-autobiography and how Carol Shields writes women's lives. Below are the questions we'll use to start off the discussion when we meet next Monday, February 8, at the Book Cellar. New members are always welcome to join us.

  • Who is telling Daisy's story? The first chapter is told in a first-person narrative, but the majority of the book is told in the third-person with the first-person narrator occasionally interjecting. What effect did this have on how you read the story and what you thought of Daisy as an autobiographer (if she really is one)?
  • From the passionate Cuyler Goodwill to Barker Flett, who is smitten with Daisy while she is still a child, the men in this novel are both erotically enthralled by women and fulfilled by their relationships with them. In contrast, their wives seem bewildered by, indifferent to, or at best serenely tolerant of their husbands' ardor. Does The Stone Diaries subvert traditional sex roles? Where do Daisy and the novel's other female characters derive their greatest pleasure and fulfillment? How badly do Shields's women need men?*
  • What role does memory - either the desire to remember or the desire not to remember - play in the novel? How does it drive Daisy's motivations?
  • Would you describe this as a functional or dysfunctional family? Is Cuyler a good father? Is Daisy a good mother and wife?
  • Compare Daisy's marriage to Harold to her marriage with Barker. Is there love in either of these marriages? What are her motivations for marrying the two men?
  • In the chapter titled "Love," Daisy writes: "Men, it seemed to me in those days, were uniquely honored by the stories that erupted in their lives, whereas women were more likely to be smothered by theirs. Why? Why should this be? Why should men be allowed to strut under the privilege of their life adventures, wearing them like a breastful of medals, while women went all gray and silent beneath the weight of theirs?" (121). What implication does this statement have when taken in the context of her life and her autobiography? What does it reveal both about our protagonist and about the author?
  • In the chapter titled "Sorrow," we're given first person accounts from Daisy's family and friends on what they think is the cause of her malaise. How does this form another picture of Daisy? Are these accounts to be trusted and do they seem to fit in a book that is mostly autobiography?
  • In the final chapter, after speaking to her daughter Alice, Daisy writes: "Does Grandma Flett actually say this last aloud? She's not sure. She's lost track of what's real and what isn't, and so, at this age, have I" (329). What does this admission mean in terms of the record we're reading? Does it affect your ability to trust Daisy as the narrator of her own life? What might be the author's motivation in writing this statement?
  • How well do we know Daisy by the time the book ends? Better or worse than her family and friends? Better or worse than she seems to know herself?
  • What effect do the photos in the center of the book lend to the story? Does it make it more believable or less believable? Do you question any of Daisy's descriptions of her family members after seeing the pictures?


*From Penguin reading group guide.

 
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