Sunday, October 30, 2011

This is probably one of the best novels I've ever read, but don't take my word for it

Every once in a while, you read a novel that's so beautiful beyond words that you just can't imagine your review doing justice to it. So, I'm not going to bother with all that analysis of writing styles, narrative, and themes. Instead, I'll just be gushing over John Williams's novel, Stoner.

Stoner is probably one of the best adult fiction I've read, ever. The character of William Stoner is one that will indelibly remain in my conscious reading life. But what's more amazing is that, as a character, Stoner doesn't do anything spectacular. In the novel, Stoner seems to be just going with whatever fate throws at him.

Stoner, which is written in a refreshingly linear fashion, we are taken through the entire life of Stoner -- from his beginnings as a son of a farmer and his wife, to the time of his retirement from teaching literature in a university. If the story seems too simple, it's just because it really is. But John Williams, in this semi-autobiographical novel, chooses to focus on the whole gamut of emotions that Stoner experiences. The result is one very rich work of fiction that you want to finish in one sitting. It is that rewarding, I tell you.

Of course, this isn't a "happy" novel, with its subplots of emotionally abusive marriage (Stoner and his wife) university politics (Stoner and the chairman of the department), adulterous relationships (Stoner and a colleague), and how not to raise a child (Stoner and his daughter). Saying that Stoner is heartbreaking would be an understatement.

At the end of the novel, I keep asking myself why would Williams choose to write about a character who seem to have made such bad decisions on his life. His choosing to study literature instead of agriculture seems to be the only redeeming decision that he has ever made. Other than this, everything seems to be going against Stoner's favor: he marries a woman who doesn't love him; he lets his wife take control of the raising of their child, resulting in their daughter becoming one messed-up individual. I guess, Williams is a realist. Bad things do happen to people, and they happen a lot.

Stoner doesn't fall into the trap of being highly romanticized. Its story is straightforward, and its characters are people that you expect to meet if you do live in a university town. There's no heavy introspection on the part of Stoner that would make the novel too pedantic. Dear reader, if you're going to read one novel this year, let Stoner be it.

Read this book if:
  1. You're longing for good (if not the best) literary fiction.
  2. You've also made bad decisions on your life.
  3. You'll read anything published by the NYRB.

18 comments:

ನರೇಂದ್ರ ಪೈ said...

Why should one hesitate to express the love towards a book!

Peter S. said...

Thanks for dropping by, ನರೇಂದ್ರ ಪೈ!

ןıuǝ oɟ ɟןıƃɥʇ said...

reminds me, in a way, of hosea and gomer (coming from a buddhist of course)

Mirek Sopek said...

Peter, you review turned my attention to the book. It will be my next on reading list ...

However, having a long backlog list of books for review I can't promise I will review it any time soon :-)

Peter S. said...

Hello, line of flight! I will Google that.

Hi, Mirek! Oh, but I think you'll find it rewarding to bump this book to the top of your TBR!

Harvee said...

Thanks for the recommendation. I'll look it up.

C.B. James said...

I have this one but have not read it yet. I'm saving it for a while. The author only wrote two novels that I'm aware of. I read his other one, Butcher's Crossing and was blown away by it. You must read it some day.

Peter S. said...

Hi, Harvee! You're welcome!

Hello, C.B. James! Now that is one book that I would really like to read! I'm now a fan of Williams!

M (@notarevolution) said...

I read this book in April and *loved* it, so much that, like you, I had a hard time writing my thoughts out about it on Goodreads. I'm planning a reread this winter.

Also, it was my first NYRB Classic, so now I'm predisposed to love anything else in the collection.

Peter S. said...

Hello, M! NYRB is one of my current book addictions!

Stepford Mum said...

Between your review and Honey's, I so want to read this book. It's on my Christmas wishlist :)

Peter S. said...

Stepford Mum, when I see it at a bookstore, I'll text you!

Sheila (Bookjourney) said...

Wow Peter I do not get to your site near enough an then when I do you floor me a book I never heard of but now want to read.

Peter S. said...

Hi, Sheila! I've only heard of Stoner this year, and I am so glad I did!

David Wagner said...

Hmm... I may have to grab a free sample of this book for my Kindle. The review has given me mixed feelings about it... you say how wonderful it is, yet the description makes it sound like a real downer...

Ah, well, I shall taste it and see for myself! Thanks for the recommendation.

Peter S. said...

Hello, David! Yes, it is a downer, actually. But it's still a very beautiful book.

Anonymous said...

I read this novel non-stop over a ten hour period (I'm a slow reader) yesterday. I finished it last night at about 10 PM. It is now about 3 PM the next day and I am still weeping. In my own way I am Stoner too. (I am now 64) I'll never be the same but always will be. So, so, so many of us, I am sure, whether we know or not. I kind of wish I didn't. I'm sorry.
Barry

Peter S. said...

Hi, Barry. No need to be sorry. If a book has made us feel passionately about something, then it's one damn good book, no?