John Stoner is our protagonist - a man who, as we learn in the opening paragraph, lives and dies without making a mark on humanity. But, as in all literature, the devil is in the details; over the course of the novel, we follow Stoner’s transformation from a poor Missouri farmer to an assistant English professor. Stoner is a bildungsroman of sorts in which we follow Stoner’s life from adolescence through death.
Stoner is not a particularly exciting read. His life is neither fruitful nor dramatic. From a cold, distant wife to an undistinguished profession, Stoner doesn’t necessarily thrill the reader. However, there are glimpses of greatness in the drab, and Williams writes with incredible precision. We feel for Stoner and though it might not keep you on the edge of your seat, you will keep reading because you care for the character.
I’ve always believed that the purpose of storytelling is honesty. In other words, a writer’s job is to tell a story based around characters, and if these characters react to their surroundings honestly, than the work is a success regardless of the plot points. Stoner reinforces this conceit. The characters feel fresh and compelling, and the blandness of William Stoner’s life is both honest and refreshingly real.
That being said, this book isn’t for everyone. I was drawn to it in many ways because William Stoner’s interests coincide with many of my own. His love for English and university classes were relatable and drew me closer to the character.
I can’t say the same will happen to you. After all, the story is grim. William Stoner lives a life of quiet desperation, yet manages to find refuge in the small pleasures of life. I would recommend this novel to English majors and book lovers alike. It won’t blow you away with plot revelations, but it will keep you drawn in with its honesty.
If you do check it out, please let me know your thoughts. This one comes highly recommended.