Meditation on John Williams’ ‘Stoner’

Well, I read it in one sitting. Slow in pace, quiet in its intent, Stoner nevertheless drew me in with melancholy that rang clear through with every word. Starting humbly, just like the protagonist, the book proceeded to shrug off, slip around the edges, and downright clamber over the events of the days and years of Stoner’s life as they drifted by in the passage of time. Stoner meets the worst portions of his lot with a meek grace, and in times of relative fortune he’s unsure how to act. Despite his passion, Stoner’s tragedy is that he simply does not know what to do with such drive; in times of inspiration, his inexperience has him barrelling forth as a blind farmer bound in destiny with the winds of chance to raise an uncertain harvest naively sown. Such is how his parents were, resolute and modest. It must be in the blood.

What I liked about this novel was its quiet realism. It brought about the inane reality of human existence—its desperate suffering—without having to dwell on those obvious moments of frustration. There was no breakdown of tears, and there was no overt violence. No shouting match or fist fight, and even obvious betrayal was met with resignation, a necessary fulfillment of suppressed need. While in other stories such dramatic scenes depict a release of those slowly built tensions that accrue in life, John Williams instead filled the atmosphere with such empathy that those acts not dwelt upon were nonetheless implicit. The author’s words breathe, their rhythm on the pages like a heartbeat: natural and unconscious.

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