Stoner can somewhat be translated as a lost and found classic literature. For a novel originally published in 1965 to being reissued in the 2000s by publications such as Vintage and the New York Review Book Classics, one can think of the saying that books are always waiting to be discovered. Well in John Williams’s case we can say that his most prized work went through rediscovery, long after he passed away. Fortunately though, Stoner’s later founding has been of greater success. Aside for garnering critical awards from Waterstones, The New Yorker and The Guardian, the book has triumphed into a new wave of popularity. A recognition of sorts it surely deserves of.
The book centres on a very simple story held with a very simple narrative. Settled in the turn of the 20th century, where America is continuously going through extraordinary periods, we cover the life of William Stoner in the format of a fictional biographical account. His upbringing in the Midwest farms, arrival in University of Missouri and how literature comes quietly into his life. It is plainly straight-forward and in some ways ordinarily linear. The outlook of the novel pertains to a theme of bleak hope. However, contrary to the general first impressions one may have Stoner is a piece of fiction covered in brilliant writing throughout. It is so impeccable and carried in such beautiful tones that it just silently leaves a humbleness.
John Williams has this patience in his writing that makes his prose restrained in a graceful manner but keeps the functionality in service to the story. There is no provocation or flavour to pull you in. The characters and their developments are all so natural. However the modest pacing is gripping to the point where you don’t realise how far you’ve come to and how close you are to the edge. From all the page turners I’ve read, Stoner stands out boldly. The novel has delicately attached a vibe of melancholy from the beginning to the end. It is so impressively put together that regardless of what emotions it draws you in for, there is a sense of keep going forward and learning more. It is certainly captivating in a way you’d not imagine.
“But for years afterward, at odd moments, Stoner remembered what Masters had said; and though it brought him no vision of the University to which he had committed himself, it did reveal to him something about his relationship to the two men, and it gave him a glimpse of the corrosive and unspoiled bitterness of youth.”
Characters themselves have a steady influence on Stoner’s development. Even more so, the surroundings play their part vividly as well. The University of Missouri is a fine example, carrying its own role to the situations Stoner has to adapt to. Different idealistic concepts are discussed in Stoner’s relations to important characters such as his wife, teacher, friends, parents and colleagues. It allows for some thinking on how a certain side of the story affects the other.
Acclaimed actor Tom Hanks has went on to say about Stoner to be “one of the most fascinating things that you’ve ever come across”. This is indeed a novel that has very recently won universal praise and should continue to do on so. It is sorrowful and in a way devastating. At the same time you could say Stoner treads on the essence of living and how a person strives for identity around it. To conclude it is a read pondering on the virtue of humility. Unforgettable in the truest of senses and one I gratefully hold as a priceless reading experience.