The plot of John Williams’ 1965 novel, Stoner (NYRB Classics, 2006): Young man becomes assistant professor at University of Missouri, lives unhappy life, has undistinguished career, dies. You can hardly be blamed if you don’t find this particularly enticing, but make no mistake: Stoner (last name of the protagonist—sorry to disappoint) is a work of almost unbearable beauty. Though Stoner’s life is, by any standard measure, bad, Williams’ crystalline and boundlessly empathetic prose plumbs its multifaceted depths, and we ultimately come away with the realization that even the most quietly desperate of lives contains moments of transcendence, illumination, love, joy; that such a life is worth not only living but also commenting upon; that each of us is the hero of a story with latent beauty and drama, and the great tragedy of life is that so few find a suitable narrator.
Stoner by John Williams, introduction by John McGahern. Series: NYRB Classics. 304 Pages. 2006.