I came to Stoner by way of the Web site http://conversationalreading.com/. Scott Esposito recommended it, so I decided to put it on my list and recently found the time to read it.
Stoner is the life story of one William Stoner, a farm boy who left the rural life behind and became a professor of literature at a small university in Missouri in the early twentieth century. His life is a series of disappointments, however, and the work left me wondering about the weight of a life lived with little or no worldly recognition. Not that such a legacy of recognition is everything. In the first few paragraphs the scope of Stoner’s life is set, and his mark on the world seems so limited, like a footprint in melting snow, yet the author writes 200 plus pages about this “insignificant” man. So I read on.
Besides finding Stoner an interesting character, what carried me through was the exquisite, original language and the narrative structure. The sentences were straightforward and clear, but many of them had the poetic quality that I like. The narrative structure was traditionally linear, beginning with his birth and progressing toward the end, but what I appreciated was the control John Edward Williams had over the narrative. Here is a great example of speeding up narrative time by “telling” some of the story, and “showing” only the parts of the story that warranted more detail and drama.
In the end, I found William Stoner to be someone I could feel empathy with. I was saddened by his disappointments and wished some of the events in his life had gone a different, more positive way. I was particularly frustrated with his wife who viciously tormented him unjustifiably. I admire his love of literature and understand his struggle to share that love with students who simply want to get by with mediocrity. All in all, Stoner’s was a life worth living, and this is a novel worth reading.
I would read it again.
Photo credit: “Thumbs up,” Paul, Flickr