13 December 2022

Stoner, by John Williams

I'm not quite sure how I can call myself a lover of books, majored in English with a minor in Creative Writing, and never once did I come across author John Williams. In just a few sittings last week, Stoner by John Williams easily crept onto my list of favorites.

While a quiet and simple story covering the life of one man in Missouri, born at the end of the 19th century, William Stoner is a seemingly unremarkable teacher who leads an unremarkable life. Within his cocoon of literature and teaching is a man who feels he has let his parents down, suffers through a troubled marriage, wrestles a continued clash with a colleague, and conceding to a failed relationship with his daughter. With only two friends he can count within his life, William Stoner's story is divulged to the reader in quiet moments which reminded me of Anita Brookner's Hotel du Lac

I was so taken by the gentle story of William Stoner, who received an opportunity to begin studies at the local university in Missouri for agriculture, in order to help with his parents' farm. However, upon arrival at the university, staring at the gleaming lawns and stately buildings filled with so many chances of learning, along with a requirement to take a study of English, he very quickly falls in love with academic life and literature. He decides to redirect his life's course from his parents' expectations and chooses to instead study literature throughout his entire time at the university. It's a secret he maintains until his graduation in the most heartfelt and quietly tense scenes in a short conversation with his parents.

Stoner has such a mesmerizing flow that I felt a strong connection to his character, and worried with him on the small highs and deep lows of his life. Nothing quite amazing happens for Stoner, and while it was an easy and comfortable read, the story of William Stoner is filled with so many moments of sadness and choices made that resulted in unhappiness. It is a life filled with insignificant events to others, but extremely poignant for Stoner. It is heartfelt and quiet and hopeful and one of the best pieces of writing I've ever had the luxury of reading.

The legacy of this man becomes nothing, no remembrance. For all the students he taught and the struggles he experienced with another teacher at the university, with his wife, with his daughter, it was an astoundingly sad book, but also incredibly beautiful. It reminded me that even in anonymity and disregard, there is a world of endless possibility in even the tiniest of events in the seasons of a person's life. Each life is precious and individual and not to be taken for granted.

What a lovely book. I've ordered the author's three remaining novels.