Hidden Gem: Stoner by John Williams


“William Stoner enters the University of Missouri at nineteen to study agriculture. Later, he becomes a teacher. He marries the wrong woman. His life is quiet, and after his death his colleagues remember him rarely.
Yet with truthfulness, compassion and intense power, this novel uncovers a story of universal value. Stoner tells of the conflicts, defeats and victories of the human race that pass unrecorded by history, and reclaims the significance of an individual life.” So reads the blurb of John Williams 1965 novel Stoner.

What is the most common fear amongst all human beings? Death? Poverty? Not being loved? No. The truth is we all fear that we might be living a life that has no meaning. That we might make so little impact on the people and the world around us during our time on earth, that we are forgotten mere weeks after we leave it. This is what John Williams tackles in this frankly awe inspiring work.

Charting the life of William Stoner, an English teacher in America, Williams takes us by the hand and leads us on a journey through a life that does not appear to have been memorable, worthwhile or of any intrinsic value. But with deft and incredible prose, Williams draws out incredible profound beauty from a relatively normal life. He manages to capture those deep hidden moments and emotions that we all experience, yet rarely discuss, in a way I’ve never seen in a novel.

We often say that we experience emotions that are hard to put into words- yet somehow Williams does just this. It’s a revelation to read. Now charting an entire character’s life in one novel is an arduous task. You have to maintain a level of interest and compassion for the protagonist you are following. We follow Stoner through his poor upbringing on his family’s farm, to the University where he will eventually work for the remainder of his life. We are with him as he meets who he believes to be the love of his life and watch his courtship turn to a marriage gone cold, as his wife resents and insults him, barring him from sharing a meaningful relationship with his only child. We traverse his career through the University, as he is slighted and passed over for promotions and undermined by pretentious and cocksure students. We even stand with him during what appears to be a torrid love affair, which eventually transpires to be his only real experience of love and passion.

It would be reductive and unfair to detail the entirety of this amazing piece of literature in a short review, so let me end by simply stating that if you wish to experience a powerfully resonant and profound story about love, experience and life itself, then pick up John Williams master work Stoner as soon as you can. You wont be disappointed.

Stoner is written by John Williams and was published in 1965. 


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