38. Stoner: John Williams

stoner john williams

A book club choice but I had been intending to read it for some time anyway, as there was a bit of a stir about it last year when it seemed to be ‘rediscovered’ as a bit of a lost modern classic.

Stoner basically tells the life story of William Stoner, from the time he leaves his family farm in Missouri to go to college and study agriculture. During a compulsory English Literature course he has an epiphany and changes his major, falling in love with the subject and going on to complete a Masters and a doctorate, then to teach at the University. He falls into quickly evident to be a loveless marriage, loses a close friend in the Great War, has a daughter to whom he is initially very close, embarks on a passionate affair and has his career, and affair, blocked by an awkward colleague.

It is an oddly moving book. You really root for Stoner throughout, he is an honest, hard-working man, who cares deeply about his subject and his profession. He moves into a world very different from the simple toil of his farm upbringing and never really fits in, but nevertheless endeavours to make the most of everything life throws at him. Behind the ‘small story’ of this one man, is the ‘big story’ of America’s history in the first half of the 20th Century, the First and Second World Wars, Prohibition, the Depression all make their mark on his life. The prose is simple but engaging and the characters are very well drawn from Edith’s ghostly frailty to Finch’s robust jollity.

4.5 stars

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