Bare ruin'd choirs where late the sweet birds sang,
In me though see'st the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west;
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death's second self, that seals up all in rest,
John Williams's Stoner is that rare novel which is almost perfect in every way, from its plain prose style to its subtle portrayal of themes and evocative descriptions of events that are common enough for all adults to have experienced them in ways that make the narration a pleasure - one which makes you stop and reflect in wonder at the marvels around you, past and present. I found the story often took my breath away as I intently pondered the beautiful telling of a story of love and loss. The pain and pleasure were so pronounced that the reality of the images created by the author had an effect that few books ever do. I found the prose style reminiscent of Richard Yates's Revolutionary Road, but with more hope present even as Stoner deals unsuccessfully with the vicissitudes of life.
This is a Midwestern book, set on the plains, about a young man who is schooled in the hardships of farm life but who flowers in an academic setting - up to a point. His taciturn being and stoicism both help him survive and contribute to his downfall in love and learning. In each he fails, even though he does experience small moments of triumph; yet even in failure his determination shines through the pages of the novel and makes this drama somehow less tragic than it might have been otherwise. The difficulty which Stoner has in communicating his feelings is palpable throughout compounding the inevitability of defeat for our hero. This novel in all its detailing of the life of William Stoner captures some of the passion and loss that is suggested by Shakespeare's Sonnet 73 (quoted above) that plays a pivotal role in Stoner's education. This is a story of integrity and persistency in living through adversity and loss.
Stoner by John Williams. NYRB Classics, New York. 2003 (1965)