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Thursday, September 16, 2010

Review: Stoner by John Williams

288 pages
published by New York Book Review Classics

Huh. Ya know, I didn't know if I was going to like this novel. I tend to have a hard time getting into "period" novels, which this kinda is, taking place from about 1891 to 1950s. But it's a testament to John Williams and his storytelling abilities that he was able to take a simple story about a passionate, though ultimately ordinary, English professor named William Stoner and turn it into an compelling tale of a life fully lived...or at least attempted.

Pretty much everyone on The Millions (.com) is in love with this novel and it's been called "the perfect novel" by more than a few respectable literary types. Perfect? Well, I don't really even know what that means. Is there some sort of Perfection Checklist for the novel? Entertaining. Check. Clear, fluid, and often gorgeous prose. Check. Funny. Check. Sad. Check. Main Character is dignified and near heroic in his quiet struggles, though also we can't help but feel a little sorry for him. Check. Wait. It is the perfect novel!

But seriously, it was pretty awesome. I don't think there was a single scene, or a single page, where I checked out mentally and started thinking about what I was going to make for dinner or whether or not I should play Batman Arkham Asylum on the XBox360 before bed. I cared about William Stoner. I cared about his small, human plight. I wanted Stoner to die (as we knew he would by the first page) happy. And I believe he did. Take the time to read the below quotes to get a taste of aforementioned 'gorgeous prose'. There, I made it through the entire review without making a lame pot joke.


"He was forty-two years old, and he could see nothing before him that he wished to enjoy and little behind him that he cared to remember ." pg. 181

"They [Stoner and his daughter] talked long into the night, as if they were old friends. And Stoner came to realize that she was, as she said, almost happy with her despair; she would live her days out quietly, drinking a little more, year by year, numbing herself against the nothingness her life had become. He was glad she had that, at least; he was grateful that she could drink." pg. 248

"On an impulse he switched out the light on his desk and sat in the hot darkness of his office; the cold air filled his lungs, and he leaned toward the open window. He heard the silence of the winter night, and it seemed to him that he somehow felt the sounds that were absorbed by the delicate and intricately cellular being of the snow. Nothing moved upon the whiteness; it was a dead scene, which seemed to pull at him, to suck at his consciousness just as it pulled the sound from the air and buried it within a cold white softness. He felt himself pulled outward toward the whiteness, which spread as far as he could see, and which was a part of the darkness from which it glowed, of the clear and cloudless sky without depth. For an instant he felt himself go out of the body that sat motionless before the window; and as he felt himself slip away, everything-- the flat whiteness, the trees, the tall columns, the night, the far stars-- seemed incredibly tiny and far away, as if they were dwindling to a nothingness. Then, behind him, a radiator clanked. He moved, and the scene became itself...He walked slowly home, aware of each footstep crunching with muffled loudness in the dry snow." pg. 180

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