The Stone Diaries

September 2, 2012 § Leave a comment

Have you read The Stone Diaries, Province?

Since Carol Shields’ classic Canadian novel is partly set in Tyndall, Manitoba, I’ve been re-reading it as I work on this project. The last time, I was 19 years-old and experience seems to have enhanced my mind’s ability to appreciate the beautifully arranged words of the tale. She won a Pulitzer, you know. An excerpt:

When the sun is high overhead the tower appears white; later in the afternoon it takes on a blue-gray softness.

Always, one or two of these young people will break into a run. First man there is a starving bear. They reach the low stone cemetery wall, scramble over it – never mind the gate with the rusted hook – dodging the gravestones and stands of thistle. There! At last! They pat the tower’s bumpy sides, which are surprisingly warm from the sun’s rays, and clamber up and down its stepping stones – the young women often have to be coaxed, or assisted, before they’ll go all the way to the top, being fearful of heights, or of exposing their undergarments. They persevere, however, since the view of the surrounding countryside is said to be superb, and they are curious, every last one of them, to peer down into the tower’s hollow core at the circle of weeds, beneath which lies a small gravestone – or so it is said.

There is a good deal of shrieking and laughing on these excursions. Someone locates the mermaid stone. Someone else finds the carved cat, and the little stone down near the bottom which is inscribed with the single word “woe.” The most knowledgeable person in the party will recount the history of the tower: a beautiful young wife dead of childbirth. A handsome young husband, stunned by grief – a man who can still be glimpsed occasionally, working away on the tower in the early morning hours, although he is no longer young, no longer handsome by the day’s standards, and no longer building with his original fervor; he is happy enough, in fact, to stop work and pass the time of day with visitors. And the baby, what happened to the baby? No one seems to know. It touches the heart. It does.

And now, just look at the time; the day-trippers must head back to the village and catch their train. The sun is dipping low. They walk more slowly; some of the couples hold hands or go arm in arm. One or two of them may turn, on an impulse, and look back at the tower. They are heard to comment aloud on the almost medieval look of the structure, and how strange it is to see a sight like this poking up in the middle of the prairie horizon. A remark will be made about the beauty of the limestone, how nearly it resembles Italian marble. One of the young men has pocketed a small carved nugget, which he fingers as he walks along. Someone else, one of the more bookish of the young women, murmurs something about the Taj Mahal in faraway India, how it too is a monument to lost love.

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