STONER by John Williams


No, this is not about a dude smoking weed.

This gentle story of a farmer’s son who discovers literature and becomes a teacher was written in 1965, and the story begins in 1910.  An almost illiterate farmer learns of agricultural courses at a university, and figures if his son took a degree in agriculture, it would help the farm, so he sends his son, William, off to college.  During his first semester, in which he has to take a literature survey course, the boy abandons his agricultural studies and sets out to get a degree in lit.

He lives with the tightwad brother and sister in law of his father, in a tiny unheated unventilated attic room in exchange for helping out on their farm.  He lives there until he gets his degree, then is hired by the college to teach while he works on his Masters degree and his doctorate, whereupon since he has some money, he moves out into his own place.

He is shy and quiet, sees a young woman at a faculty gathering, the daughter of somebody’s relative, falls in love and persuades her to marry him.  They have one child, and that wife is one nutcake, believe you me.

It is the slow, quiet story of a man dedicated to his subject, to teaching, to the university where he teaches until he dies.  Kind of a midwestern Goodbye Mr. Chips.   It is the story of how he adjusts to the ebb and flow of his wife’s strange mental states, and really, nothing much happens, other than the ill-fated love affair during his forties.  I guess you could say it is a story about disappointment, but I don’t think he ever expected much, so his disappointments were maybe just that, disappointments, not soul-crushing despair.  This is not a plot driven book, but a character driven story.

And even though I am usually all about the story, like in what happens next, I found this book poking at me to read just a little bit more, just a little bit more, just a little bit more.

The edition I read had a long-winded introduction written by the Irish writer John McGahern, which I found to be not much more than a long rehash of the plot.  I usually like intros because they often indicate points to look for as you read, and suggest the intentions of the author, etc., but this one was a terrible disappointment.  I guess considering William Stoner’s life, it is fitting.

It is a thoughtful book that didn’t make much of a splash when it was first published, but seems to have been lately rediscovered and is getting a lot of play these days.  I liked it in spite of its somber mood.  After all, every day can’t be Sunday at the beach.



3 comments on “STONER by John Williams

  1. Mary Smith says:

    But what does his father do about the farm when his son doesn’t come back?

  2. Marti says:

    the parents work the farm with the help of a hired hand until their deaths.

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