For a vintage classic, this is a surprisingly easy-going read. The prose is flawless, sharp and (what I love best) concise, and the pace very well minded. The story itself revolves around farm boy William Stoner who gets into the new University of Columbia in the early 1900s, and who then lives through WWI and II by staying out of them.
Which is a ridiculously poor summary and does no justice at all to the book, but that's why you've got to read it.
Personally, fiction does best when it records observations. Most of us (if I'm not too hopeful) are capable of thinking for ourselves, which basically means that we need no lengthy philosophising/social psychologising of human behaviour or thought, that we can, thank you very much, do the philosophising/social typecasting on our own. So if there is anything that John Williams does right in his writing, it's the strength of his observation and his ability to then translate that into prose.
A few very brilliant quotes that I thought must simply be squeezed in here -
When Stoner is forced to end his love affair and explaining to his mistress why he would/could not 'throw it all away' for her : 'Because then, none of it would mean anything - nothing we have done, nothing we have been. [...] We both would become something else, something other than ourselves. We would be - nothing.'
- Which is a quote sufficiently original (to me) and almost-responsibility evading and even epiphanic (i.e. it's true! who we are is only what society allows us be!)
From the lips of Gordon Finch, arguably Stoner's best friend : 'In theory, your life is your own to lead. In theory, you ought to be able to screw anybody you want to, do anything you want to, and it shouldn't matter so long as it doesn't interfere with your teaching. But damn it, your life isn't your own to lead. It's - oh, hell. You know what I mean.'
- He's right, we probably know what he means.
Food for thought? Yumm.
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