Stoner by John Williams

The story evolves so gently and quietly that talking about it feels like tainting it and violently intruding on something that prefers to be left in peace. This has as much to do with the story’s subtle and eluding tone, as with the parallel narrative. Stoner is a quiet and gentle men with the purest of intentions, but which, as it often happens, get tainted when materialized. His life advances in an isolated manner, devoid of the force that transforms a thought into action or the knowledge of how to use it.

Stoner grows up on a farm and lacks the notions of the bigger world’s complexities. When he, by coincidence, discovers literature and the academic world, the consequences are two-sided. Knowing hard work, he progress quickly. Lacking experience, he isn’t able to connect his own life with this imaginary world and instead, separates them completely. Since the new world has nothing to do with the former one – it is exempt from monotonous, repetitive, manual work and is full of wonder, novelty and flights of thought – he finds in it a perfect hideaway. It is a place where the practical life can’t intrude and the daily problems can’t invade, but where the inputs still have straightforward outputs and things are as simple as they sometimes were. The worse his domestic life gets, the more he retreats to studies; the more he masters the written word, the less he can articulate his own everyday. The two worlds become so isolated that even a desperate cry for help from his nearest turns into a distant call from a faraway land. Despite all the theoretical knowledge, he doesn’t have the tools to question and resist his own life course.

This book is a monument to the mundane, to the paths we choose without really choosing, to the joys and sorrows that coincidences distribute unevenly among people, and of a life that has much more within its reach, yet stays motionless and trapped between opposing forces. With simple, but deeply moving sentences it portrays a correspondent story. As many monuments, it captures a moment of life and provides a humble warning for those who are inclined to follow his path.

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6 thoughts on “Stoner by John Williams

  1. Your description makes me recoil in horror: I read books to live different lives – this one, regardless of how ‘beautifully written,’ is a life I would not care to live, even virtually.

    I think that’s my attitude toward a lot of other books, and I hadn’t really figured that out, so thanks. I could not get into ‘The Kite Runner’: after a chapter or two, I knew what was going to happen (reality), and that nothing could make it less grim. I couldn’t keep reading.

    I’ve had the same reaction to reading ‘Lolita’ and, after reading ‘The Silence of the Lambs,’ to any other of those novels. My reading time is too rare and too precious any more. What I might have swallowed easily when younger and healthy, gets the pass now.

    Without hope, the only alternative is despair, and that’s a choice I won’t make.

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  2. It really is sad, almost too sad, I don’t know why so many good books tend to be:) Perhaps it has to do with the truthfulness in them. Thank you very much for reading and commenting!

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  3. Hi Alicia! I understand what you mean, and lots of books really demend certain (depressing) state of mind. I normally don’t like them much either, but then again, some are, as you said, just so beautiful that all the gloominess loses its importance in comparisment. This one made even despair full of sense and hope, which was quite comforting:) But for sure it is useless to waste time with the ones you’re not interested in. Thank you for your thoughtful comment! By the way, I didn’t like Lolita either:)

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