Scot's Reviews > Stoner

Stoner by John Williams
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Nov 22, 13

Read in March, 2009

One of my sisters shared an earlier review I wrote here with one of her friends at work, an avid reader, and my sister reported back that her friend said I really needed to read Stoner. In my ignorance, I had never heard of such a work of literature that I could recall, and initially suspected it might be a novel about a pothead in the 1970s. (To be clear: I would have no qualms about reading such a book, and indeed, could see great potential there, but I thought it a bit curious topic area for my sister to recommend.)

Stoner was written in 1965 by John Williams, and since then has been passed along and promoted word of mouth by true lovers of literature who recognize a beautifully crisp and clear command of language and admire a writing style that might come off a bit stark and plain but quite sensitively and powerfully conveys the turbulence and angst (as well as the passion and the joy) simmering beneath the surface of a simple poor young man born to a dreary farm life in Missouri in the closing decades of the nineteenth century, a young man who, once sent to the state university to pick up some farming expertise, has his entire life changed by an encounter with a classic Shakespearean sonnet in a sophomore lit survey class run by a veritable curmudgeon. This begins Stoner's lifelong commitment to the study and teaching of English at that very same state university.

Those is academe particularly will be amazed how well Williams conveys the irritating minutiae and tempests in teapots that are standard fare in the department politics and administrative procedure of many a university department, whether it is at the time of World War I when our hero first becomes a grad student teaching assistant, in his decades stuck teaching Freshman comp at godforsaken hours because the department chair hates him, or for that matter, in the real world even now in the 21st century.

This is a book about academe but it is about much more. The hero is existential in that his nobility lies in the manner he endures and the true passion he finds in the pursuits of the mind, and somewhat later in his life, in the pursuits of the flesh. This literary overview of one man's life course might be seen by some as a sad story, but I see a beauty in Stoner's approach and resolution, in his ability to find the wherewithall to persevere in his sincere fascination with medieval rhetoric and the impact his dedicated tutelage can have upon his students. Don't expect Mr. Chips or To Sir With Love or Stand and Deliver: this is not a hagiographic tribute to a beloved prof. It is a rumination on the process of love, incorporating at different moments reflections on the complexity, pain, and pleasure in love of parents, children, spouses, paramours, students, nature, and perhaps yes, self.
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message 1: by Gwen (new)

Gwen Oh, boy! This book sounds like one I would also love and admire, and like you, Scot, I initially thought "druggie-boy." Well, as one of your sisters who had never heard of this book, thanks! I will definitely be reading it. Gwen


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