This post is part of the LRC’s 25 year anniversary project. We are asking our readers for the most influential Canadian books published in the last quarter century. For more information, click here.
The Stone Diaries had a huge readership not only because of the high quality of the writing and exquisitely-crafted structure, but because it highlighted the lives of North American women. The ones who didn’t achieve anything great, or win important prizes, or were not famed for their beauty nor even for the hardships they endured, but who lived their lives as mothers, wives, daughters, sisters and grandmothers, did their duty, tried, perhaps, in a recalcitrant world, to step out of their given roles and did not succeed. It is the only novel to win both the Pulitzer and the Governor General’s Award (among others), proving it hit a timely note and crossed borders, and said something that hadn’t been said before in fiction in so purposeful a way, thus bringing out of the cultural murk a nuanced picture of the struggles as well as the inner landscapes of ordinary women leading ordinary lives. If I found some of the postmodern aspects faintly silly, without them the book would almost certainly not have attracted so much interest. It was, as so many ‘great’ books have been, the right book at the right moment, and gave permission to other writers to minutely examine the commonplace (as opposed to the extraordinary) female life.
But it was bigger than that: It was wholly and finally a novel about the female life as such, and thus a rare achievement, and a cultural document, a record, as well as a work of art.
Sharon Butala is the author of 17 books of fiction and nonfiction, numerous essays and articles, some poetry and five produced plays. Her most recent novel, Wild Rose was published in September 2015.