The mantle of “one of the great American novelists” is often draped around John Williams’s shoulders, despite his surprisingly small bibliography and having read his two most famous works in recent months, I really believe that he lives up to the hype.
Stoner is a novel that has often been called his most personal work as the narrative focuses on the life of an Assistant Professor of English in the university of Missouri, while Williams himself spent most of his professional teaching the the same subject, as well as creative writing, in the university of Denver. It’s beautifully written and traces the full scope of Stoner’s life from his humble agrarian beginnings to his literary awakening, from his difficult marriage to the strained relationship with his daughter and from the few intense friendships that sustain him throughout his life to the similarly few emnities that dog him personally and professionally.
Our own John McGahern rates him very highly and has a very interesting introduction included in most editions of the novel. He claims that even making the subject matter of the novel (that of a humble teacher and academic meandering through his days amidst the bacdrop of “campus life”) compelling is a massive achievement in itself. However, he argues, when you add to that the understated force and ceaselss rhythm of the prose, the Steinbeck-esque resilience in the face of the tragedies that befall Stoner and the clarity of the pyschological prognoses that Williams is capable of doling out to the peopl in Stoner’s life, what you get is a truly wonderful novel. I’m inclined to agree with him.
You can reserve a copy online at South Dublin Libraries’ catalogue here.