'It's about nothing and it's about everything. Just read it.'
So went my friend Tony's recommendation of Stoner. I take Tony's advice seriously so immediately started dropping pre-Christmas hints to the other half. Stoner dutifully turned up in my Christmas stocking and I read the final pages about a week ago. Being honest I could have finished it off a lot sooner but as with all great reads prolonging the inevitable end goes with the territory and is an essential part of the torturous joy. Taking my reluctant leave of William Stoner's company was indeed sweet sorrow.
“Sometimes, immersed in his books, there would come to him the awareness of all that he did not know, of all that he had not read; and the serenity for which he labored was shattered as he realized the little time he had in life to read so much, to learn what he had to know.”
John Williams, like his 'Everyman' creation William Stoner, was a Professor in the Department of English at the University of Missouri. They say every character an author creates is a version of him/herself. If that's the case here, which I suspect it is, no surprise then that Williams' novel soared 20 years after his death in 1994. I could imagine a similar fate for Stoner himself. His heartfelt endeavours appear to come to nothing, he seems hopelessly lost, out of touch with his emotions, and unable to come to terms with everyday dilemmas. Stoner is an underachiever. Throughout I found myself mentally screaming at him to get his act together, to be who he is, to realise his potential. Yet I recognised myself, and countless others, and it was a painful yet utterly compelling process.
“He was forty-two years old, and he could see nothing before him that he wished to enjoy and little behind him that he cared to remember.”
William Stoner is somebody and nobody. He's you, he's me. He's success and failure, expectation and humiliation, desire and despair, life and death. Put quite simply Stoner is the most eloquent portrayal I have ever read of what it means to be human. No life is ordinary. That's why we should all read this book. As Tony succinctly put it, 'Just read it.'
Bookworm Rating (Max 5) 5