Review - Stoner by: John Williams

by - Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Title: Stoner
Author: John Williams
Publisher: Vintage
Pages: 288
Format: Paperback
Source: Personal purchase


William Stoner enters the University of Missouri at nineteen to study agriculture. A seminar on English literature changes his life, and he never returns to work on his father's farm. Stoner becomes a teacher. He marries the wrong woman. His life is quiet, and after his death his colleagues remember him rarely.
Yet with truthfulness, compassion and intense power, this novel uncovers a story of universal value. Stoner tells of the conflicts, defeats and victories of the human race that pass unrecorded by history, and reclaims the significance of an individual life. A reading experience like no other, itself a paean to the power of literature, it is a novel to be savoured.

My thoughts:

You know how some books make you want to underline everything, wanting to remember every word and sentence? Stoner was one of those books for me. Is it because I liked the characters? No. Because the course of events were interesting? No. But what the book made me feel turned me upside down. Last time I was at the amusement park, friends and I rode the Pirate Ship. As someone with a fear of heights, it has never been my favorite, but all I remember from that last time is crying my eyes out of fear. Apparently, it made me grab the hair of the girl sitting in front of me, pulling it and screaming and crying. Of course, I don’t remember doing this; friends filled me in after the ride. I was shaking uncontrollably when we got off; even though friends found it super funny and still bring it up every chance they get, I was badly shaken. I got the same feeling from that day when I was done reading Stoner.

If I had to summarize the book in once sentence, it would be something like this: we meet William Stoner when he’s 19-years-old and we follow his story until his death. Stoner comes from a farming family, and his father sends him off to university when a related department opens. However, once at the university, Stoner falls in love with literature and decides to be a teacher. He does become one, too. His story continues on with his teaching, but, of course, there are some rollercoaster rides in between that might be considered minor but aren’t.

For example, he decides not to join the army during the war. He falls in love with a girl named Edith and marries her. I have no idea what he liked about her and how; I feel like he only thought she was very attractive and confused that with love. Either way, they spend almost all their marriage staying emotionally away from one another; Edith doesn’t even want to touch Stoner. Out of the blue, she decides she wants to have a baby, and they have a daughter. Edith doesn’t pay attention to the child until she reaches a certain age, and Edith decides she should be popular, should dress and act a certain way. Even though it’s obvious to the reader that they don’t belong together, they stick it out and don’t separate either.

I very much felt like Stoner was a person in desperate need of love and attention. He seems to not be able to find it; or he loses it pretty quickly when he feels he has found it. I found it very strange that he was a man who didn’t set any goals or anything for himself except to be a good teacher. It was also strange to me that he didn’t seem to actually react to anything going on around him; he seemed to neutrally go with the flow. I was rather relieved when he finally raised his voice when there was an obstacle on his way to his goal of being a good teacher. But, most of the time, I wanted to grab him from his shoulders and shake him to his core, yelling, “react, dammit! Scream! Lose it! Go crazy!”

Stoner is actually a simple novel. However, it’s so full of feeling that it goes under your skin and mixes into your blood. You feel the excitement, the hunger, the anger, everything with him. At times, you even find yourself wishing you could slip inside the book and help him. This is something everyone should read to see the simple yet complicated being that is human.

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