The call for witnesses in The Stone Diaries resonates throughout Shields’ work:
“Life is an endless recruiting of witnesses. It seems we need to be observed in our postures of extravagance or shame, we need attention paid to us. Our own memory is altogether too cherishing, which is the kindest thing I can say for it.”
The solution? “Other accounts are required, other perspectives, but even so our most important ceremonies – birth, love, and death—are secured by whomever and whatever is available. What chance, what caprice!”
Rereading The Stone Diaries, I was surprised to find that the photographs, the element that most tickled my fancy on my first reading of the novel some years ago, do not play a particular role in the novel.
They are simply another set of witnesses, recruited. Another way of engaging us, as readers, cast in the role of witnessing, further.
This time, I enjoyed the language, with Mercy “a woman whose desires stand at the bottom of a cracked pitcher, waiting” and sorrow that “sings along the seams of other hurts, especially the old unmediated terror of abandonment”.