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Making a Stone of the Heart

by Cynthia Flood

Cynthia Flood is a very good storyteller. The winner of the 1990 Journey Prize for short fiction, Flood presents the intertwined stories of a half dozen people in Making a Stone of the Heart, her first novel. Beginning with the day when Owen (age 95, drifter, collector, wordsmith, and profaner) falls silent when he hears of the death of his old friend Dora (97, mother of two living children and one dead 60 years before), she weaves us in and out of nearly a century’s worth of sorrows and happinesses.

Along the way Flood presents the lives of several other people Dora and Owen knew – friends, offspring, parents, and chance acquaintances. At first there seems to be no narrative plan at work. Flood jerks the reader through many time periods and from point of view to point of view. Slowly, though, images, phrases, and events begin to recur, like themes in a long, complicated piece of music. Three short sections from the beginning of the book are repeated at the novel’s end, like musical motifs in a symphony. With them, the novel’s pattern is revealed, showing us the way lives and closely held secrets are interconnected for both good and evil.

The title is taken from a line by W.B. Yeats – “Too long a sacrifice/can make a stone of the heart“ – and Flood’s characters are indeed forced to make many sacrifices that kill their capacity to love. Unfortunately, Flood resorts to metaphoric overkill to emphasize this point, such as giving Dora a real stone to carry inside her, a calcified fetus conceived in a secret tryst. Flood’s strong suit is the depiction of the ordinary: Dora making a dress, her daughter Mary ranting at her brother on the telephone, Owen’s father falling asleep on the grass the day he is born. She could have have made her thematic points without relying on something as obvious as a bizarre medical condition.