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Stoner, by John Williams

The 1965 novel Stoner, by John Edward Williams (1922-1994), is almost perfectly gray. Not too meaningless, but not too full of ideas. Not too depressing, but not too cheerful either. Not at all badly written, but far from distractingly poetic. It's ... just gray.

The book is currently enjoying a surge of popularity. Its protagonist, William Stoner, is an English professor at a midwestern university. He escapes from a poor farm life, goes to college, discovers the joys of the mind, has a mediocre career, enters an unhappy marriage, has a love affair that ends sadly, and dies (1891-1956 in the story). A typical snippet, from Chapter 1, immediately after sophomore student Stoner suddenly sees that he could become a teacher:

It was as simple as that. He was aware that he nodded to Sloane and said something inconsequential. Then he was walking out of the office. His lips were tingling and his fingertips were numb; he walked as if he were asleep, yet he was intensely aware of his surroundings. He brushed against the polished wooden walls in the corridor, and he thought he could feel the warmth and age of the wood; he went slowly down the stairs and wondered at the veined cold marble that seemed to slip a little beneath his feet. In the halls the voices of the students became distinct and individual out of the hushed murmur, and their faces were close and strange and familiar. He went out of Jesse Hall into the morning, and the grayness no longer seemed to oppress the campus; it led his eyes outward and upward into the sky, where he looked as if toward a possibility for which he had no name.

Luminous, meticulous, aware — like some of Tolstoy's scenes in War and Peace (cf. InfiniteSky, IrresistibleAttraction, UntutoredVoice, ...). If only the rest of Stoner glowed as brightly ...

^z - 2015-04-12