STONER by John Williams

reviewed by Jackson Ellis | Friday, May 31st, 2019

Stoner by John WilliamsNYRB Classics, 288 pages, paperback, $14.95

John Williams’ Stoner is a fascinating, engrossing tale of a man who leads a life that is, for the most part, unextraordinary. I haven’t read many books that moved me or saddened me the way this did — largely because it feels so real. It is a tragedy, but not in the Shakespearean sense; rather, it tells of the tragedy of the common man, with his regrets, missed opportunities, and onslaughts of everyday defeats. It is heartbreaking; you know it’s going to break your heart, but you plug along anyway.

While it is not perfectly written — the female characters could have been fleshed out more; there are too many awkward silences in situations that probably should not call for them; Williams really seems to love the word “perfunctory” a bit too much — it simply feels like a perfect novel, because any criticism that I have feels like splitting hairs. It is a beautiful novel, laser-focused on the life of its titular subject from childhood to grave.

I wish I could better put my feelings about this book into words, but is hard to express. I’ve never read anything like it, and I have a feeling I won’t be able to shake this one off for a long time.

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