Stoner, John Williams, USA, 1965

Stoner, John Williams, USA, 1965

William Stoner is an ordinary person. He begins life on a farm and is destined to follow in his father’s footsteps; however, he goes to school and, at the insistence of his teacher, continues on to university. He eventually falls in love, marries the wrong person, fathers a child, and becomes an important part of the teaching faculty at the university. In his middle years, he has an affair. Finally he dies. In all ways, his is an ordinary life, and yet Williams’ portrayal of Stoner is anything but ordinary. It is magnificent.

The presentation is honest, yet gentle. Bit by bit we are pulled into the life of this ordinary man who in many ways is not so unlike ourselves. He has dreams, though he is not always sure of what they are; he makes decisions, often the wrong ones; and he attempts to come to terms with the ordinariness and often times the futility of life. His life is filled with disappointments and lost opportunities, and yet he manages to whittle his life down to its essence. At the end of his life while looking backwards, ‘A sense of his own identity came upon him with a sudden force, and he felt the power of it. He was himself, and he knew what he had been.’

Quote from Stoner (Goodreads)

This is at times a sad book, with the many lost opportunities and rash decisions, but it is also brutally honest. Stoner is passionate about his work at the university but is sidelined by a malicious colleague; his marriage is a disaster, but he is unable to extricate himself from it, and when he finally finds love, he finds his hopes destroyed by forces beyond his control. He loves his daughter, but his unhappy wife, seeking ways (possibly subconsciously) to hurt him keeps her from him.

John Williams (The Guardian)

Any life has its share of disappointment and unhappiness, but there are always some rays of sunshine. Stoner finds these glimpses of happiness in small things, and at the end of his life, he asks himself, without bitterness but with an acute understanding and acceptance of what is and what has been, ‘What did you expect?’

Not an easy book, but definitely one worth reading.

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