Stoner by John Edward Williams
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
“Sometimes, immersed in his books, there would come to him the awareness of all that he did not know, of all that he had not read; and the serenity for which he labored was shattered as he realized the little time he had in life to read so much, to learn what he had to know.”
Rarely does a book, seemingly unrelated captures your feeling in words that you wish were your own. Sometimes, when I am reading a book, or staring at the to-read pile at my desk, I feel a thought very similar to the one articulated above. Now that we have gotten it out of the way, let's come to the book.
An american classic, almost two years since the last one. I have since grown averse of the genre. They have a way of doing things to your heart. Today, the sole reason I started this book was to get it off my to-read list. It's been there for months. And I am glad I took it on.
"He listened to his words fall as if from the mouth of another, and watched his father’s face, which received those words as a stone receives the repeated blows of a fist."
The author captures so many moments in words like this. Some are uttered by characters. Some, are part of the narration. The character building of William Stoner, is like our own character building. Slow exploration, cautious, little surprises at what we find, constantly chiseling away things that we wanted to be, from the things we actually are.
And early on, you feel a little sympathy for him. Soon it morphs into anger at his stupidity in courting Edith. In a very similar vein, Elaine Edith makes you want to empathise and emote for what she is. But it becomes harder and harder. At a point, you could actually feel the grating of her shrill nervous voice, as she engages guests in the house warming party.
Slowly, the novel brings you in, makes you feel welcome. After a while, you're not a guest. You become a member of the family. The characters annoy you, make you feel pity for them and in the end make you feel an invisible agony at being unable to reach out fix things, give a shoulder for them to cry.
WT has an affair. And ironically the affair has some of the best words about love. “In his forty-third year William Stoner learned what others, much younger, had learned before him: that the person one loves at first is not the person one loves at last, and that love is not an end but a process through which one person attempts to know another.”
I don't want to say much more than this. There is an odd sense of satisfaction. Of having seen something that was so magnificent. Not by the banal definition of the word. But in the way of something that is limited to just the flawed, human lives.
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