As the blurb states, “this is the story of Daisy Goodwill, from her birth on a kitchen floor in Manitoba, Canada, to her death in a Florida nursing home nearly ninety years later.” The reader passes through each of Daisy’s life-phases, arranged in neatly divided sections, titled Birth, Childhood, Love etc.
At 72, Daisy lives in a three-bedroom condo in
“If you were to ask Victoria’s Great-aunt Daisy the story of her life she would purse her lips for a moment – that ruby-red efflorescence – and stutter out an edited hybrid version, handing it to you somewhat shyly, but without apology, without equivocation that is: this is what happened, she would say from the unreachable recesses of her seventy-two years, and this is what happened next.
It’s hard to say whether she’s comfortable with her blend of distortion and omission, its willfulness, in fact; but she is accustomed to it. And it’s occurred to her that there are millions, billions, of other men and women in the world who wake up early in their separate beds, greedy for the substance of their own lives, but obliged every day to reinvent themselves.”
Shields sprinkles such gems on every other page and her deeply engaging writing style brings you to wish for a cord, a realizable link between all such people – alone, utterly alone, passing their days mimicking life. Something to make them say, “I am not all puff.” Her prose makes you wonder, is this what life is then? Is there something like a true life at all or are we destined to lead our own imitations of it?
Carol Shields was a very gifted writer. (She died of breast cancer in 2003.) There were moments during the book when I was wary of continuing without taking a break, because it had become the book’s habit to induce in me a deep and mildly painful contemplation. I found myself holding it and looking into the distance, having just read a passage, and wishing that the questions it evoked would ease a little and give me a breather.