Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Life of Integrity



"That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruin'd choirs, where late the sweet birds sang."
William Shakespeare

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 - and 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 persistence in living through adversity and loss.


Brian Joseph said...

This book has been on my radar for a long time. Based on your description, the prose sounds so well done. I have been appreciating artful prose more and more as I get older. I think that I will like this.

James said...

This is a great novel that I've read and reread. It is about one of the most beautiful unhappy lives that I've ever encountered.

R. T. (Tim) Davis said...

I'm like Brian in that _Stoner_ has been on my radar for a long time. I detect between your lines a suggestion that this is a must-read book for this over-the-hill curmudgeon. Your fine, succinct critique finally sends me to the library for a copy. Thank you!

M. said...

A great novel, and A very sad one. Still memorable after 35 years. I agree it
Is a unique, midwestern take on the academic novel. Compare it to
Bellow’s masterpiece, Herzog. The two novels would make an interesting course.