Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Gem of a Novel


Over the last few years The New York Review of Books has published classic fiction and non-fiction in their New York Review Books (nyrb) imprint. The quality of these books is such that I have found I can almost pick a book from the series at random knowing that it will be a good book.
In 1965, John Williams's third novel, Stoner, was published by Viking Press. It has been recently been re-issued by The New York Review of Books. His fourth novel, Augustus, was published by Viking Press in 1973 and won the prestigious National Book Award in 1973 and remains in print. The critic Morris Dickstein has noted that, while Butcher's Crossing (Williams' second novel), Stoner, and Augustus are "strikingly different in subject," they "show a similar narrative arc: a young man's initiation, vicious male rivalries, subtler tensions between men and women, fathers and daughters, and finally a bleak sense of disappointment, even futility." Dickstein called Stoner, in particular, "something rarer than a great novel -- it is a perfect novel, so well told and beautifully written, so deeply moving, it takes your breath away."
The novel Stoner by John Williams is by an author unknown to me prior to finding it in the nyrb collection. I must agree with the critics who have praised it for I was not disappointed with this gem of a novel written in a beautiful style. Williams has created a protagonist in William Stoner who is interesting in spite of his fundamental flaws, melancholy nature and ultimately sad life. This novel can best be described as a classical tragedy where the hero, like Oedipus or Hamlet, is defeated by his tragic flaws. The perfection of Williams' style makes both the events of the story believable (including his difficult marriage and heartbreaking love affair) and each page beautiful.

Stoner by John Williams. NYRB Classics, New York. 2003 (1965).


Thomas at My Porch said...

As I poke around your blog which I just discovered tonight, I am amazed by all the books we have in common. I recommned Stoner to anyone who will listen.

James said...

Thanks for the comment. I share your enthusiasm for Stoner and also recommend it. I have subscribed to your blog which I find fascinating.