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The Stone Diaries is the story of Daisy Stone Goodwill, an ordinary woman born in 1905 in Manitoba, who arrives in this world at the same time her mother leaves it, and who moves through the world as child, daughter, young wife, widow, mother, friend, grandmother, and old woman. What makes The Stone Diaries extraordinary, in addition to the quiet lyrical quality of Shields's writing, is the book's autobiographical form: Daisy tries to tell the story of her life by becoming a witness to her life in ways quite impossible in a traditional autobiographical format (e.g. she witnesses her own birth).
Woven throughout the book is Daisy's sense of never quite being in control, of never being the subject of her own life but rather being pulled along by forces beyond her control. Only during the last dreaming weeks as she lies dying, contemplating her own life and death, does she realize that she's never constructed the story of her life, which she is finally able to do as she "returns to currency all that's been sampled and stored and dreamed into being."
The "four voices" of this collection are Lila, her grown daughters Jennie and Sarah, and Jennie's daughter, Kate, whom Sarah has raised as her own. Sarah is a potter, and she gathers the women of the family together each year for the "vigil" of the wood-kiln firing of the pots she and her assistants have made during the year.
What the voices reveal is the story of, in Gibson's words, "three generations in a family shaped by alcoholism"--that is, the alcoholism of Jennie and Sarah's father, who is now dying in a hospice. Each woman holds secrets, and they reveal the secrets to the reader and, slowly, to each other as the story unfolds--secrets about the death of Jennie and Sarah's brother, about Jennie and Sarah's relationship to Kate, and about Kate's pregnancy.
Mr. Pitt-Rimmer is a demented elderly man who lives with his two daughters. They are entertaining their friends for the afternoon. When their attention is diverted, he runs away, stopping first at the dairy store to buy some cigarettes and Turkish delight. The proprietress recognizes him and calls his daughter, but Mr. Pitt-Rimmer again slips off.
He has various other encounters before his daughters pick him up later in the afternoon. "Promise us you won't be naughty again. It makes us so sad." But the old man later writes in the back of his book, "My daughters are keeping me prisoner. Help! I have not had a piece of meat for twenty years . . . ."
Summary:In this story, Earth's inhabitants have moved below terra firma where their every need is met and every act controlled by "the machine." A young rebel protesting against the loss of authenticity and the reverence for abstraction seeks to communicate with his mother about his need to go to the surface of the earth. This act of direct experience terrifies his mother who is sure that her son will be sentenced to "homelessness." The son does experience the beauty of the earth and returns to prophesize the end of the machine and the "civilization" it created.
Summary:This is a compact, strikingly vivid poem about fate--"what comes about apart from trying . . . generally of misfortunes." The narrator speculates about the story behind the single red high heeled shoe found alongside the highway. Misfortune is likened to an act of nature--being struck by lightning--a capricious event which alters one's life forever after.
Summary:This poem is one of several by Stephen Dunn in which the dynamics of married life are examined. The speaker begins by saying that in marriage "anything that can happen between two people" eventually will, including things that cause incredible hurt and pain. The couple portrayed in the poem stays together through tacit agreement; whatever the hurtful event, neither refers to it. Instead, conversation centers on harmless subjects such as the garden, work, and little aches. While living together in the same house, the couple remains separate because forgiveness is not forthcoming for the spouse who trespassed.
Summary:This is a generous and good-natured pastiche of a narrative poem evoking a "typical" Chekhov story and crowded with many of Chekhov's favorite images, settings, and situations. It begins: "Sunset clings to the samovar, abandoning the veranda, / but the tea has gone cold, or is finished . . . . " In the country house, Varvara Andreevna, Maximov, Dunia, Erlich, Kartahov, and Prigozhin (the doctor) carry on their ordinary business in the "oppressive midsummer twilight . . . . " Does Varvara Andreevna love the doctor? Does Erlich love Natalia Fiodorovna? Is anything going to happen? The poem ends: "In the provinces, too, nobody's getting laid, / as throughout the galaxy."
The title of this volume is taken from William Carlos Williams's Patterson, where the spray over the falls on the Patterson River "brings in the rumors of separate worlds." In the Introduction Coles evokes his friendship with Williams and Williams's vision as the stimulus for this poetry.
The first section consists of poems evoking incidents and people from the author's childhood. The second section includes a number of militant poems from Coles's 1960's work with black children in the South, and later poems dealing with Nicaragua and Northern Ireland. The final section, entitled "On the Day Jesus Christ Was Born," is a set of Christmas poems evoking various times and places in the poet's life.
Summary:The speaker describes burying a pet cat, and evokes the feelings she and her companion experience at the time, and the following day. They bury the cat with its bowl--hence the title.
Jerry, a basketball player, is going with Sheila, who hates Bonnie, who volunteers at the hospital. After bouts of intense, unfamiliar pain, Sheila learns that she has cancer of the ovaries and intestines. Sheila lives with an alcoholic grandmother; Jerry, with a single working mother and sister. The story treats Jerry's desire for sex, his friends' avoidance, and the dilemmas he faces as taking care of Sheila cuts into school and team commitments.
He wonders whom to tell, what to say to Sheila, and how to stick with a girl through defacing illness. He finds he's not in love with her. He's unsure how to handle his own family obligations as he realizes that he's the only "family" Sheila can count on. But he stays with her until the end.
His fidelity has little to do with romantic love, but rather with a larger kind of love he's learning. Sheila's death is partly a relief. Jerry needs to regroup and go on with his life after this cataclysmic hiatus. The going on, it seems, will involve Bonnie, the hospital volunteer whom neither Jerry nor Sheila appreciated until her unseasonable maturity helped them in time of need.