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A Hero or A Loser?,
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This review is from: Stoner (New York Review Books Classics) (Paperback)
On the first page of this fine novel the author tells us that the protagonist is a man of no particular esteem, a university professor who, after 38 years of teaching at the University of Missouri rose no higher than the lowly rank of Assistant Professor.
William Stoner came to the University of Missouri from a poor farm, became entranced by medieval and renaissance English literature and went on to get a PhD in that field. He was a shy man, and throughout his life had but two real friends. His wife was not one of those two. Within a couple of months of marriage Stoner realized his marriage was doomed to failure. Early on, a situation arose at the university in which Stoner, adhering to principle, earned the lifelong enmity of his department head. Another situation arose that offered Stoner a chance at happiness, and that failed.
One reviewer of this book wrote that he didn't see why anyone would want to read this book about a loser. But was he a loser? In an interview the author, John Williams, stated that he felt that Professor Stoner was a "hero." Surely this is a story of a man who really never got anywhere in life, his marriage was a failure, his parenting poor, and he never was really a vibrant member of the university faculty. Yet in some ways Stoner never gave up. Lacking innate teaching skills he worked hard at it, and became a popular teacher. He was never bitter, and, though struggling as a parent and father, he held on.
So there are two ways of looking at our "hero" or "loser." I found the book to be a wonderfully different view of a man's life. Certainly we can identify with him in some of our own failures, with our own wishes that maybe somethings in our lives might have been different. Then again, I don't read a book necessarily to find someone that I can identify with. I am intrigued by interesting lives that may be totally different from my life, or my fantasy life.
One final comment. I found the last 20 pages of this book to be heartbreaking. Being an older person myself, I am especially touched by the difficulties that age brings on. This is an excellent literary novel abounding with elegant writing. For me it was one of those books that I thought about for days after I finished it.
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Showing 1-8 of 8 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Apr 25, 2009 3:07:49 PM PDT
Sally W. Shelton says:
I, too, found the last pages, along with many earlier ones, utterly heartbreaking. It's been about 3 years since I read this book, and I continue to carry this character in my heart. Nothing has touched me in such a sympathetic way since "Ethan Frome." It's far and away the best novel I've read in memory.
Posted on Aug 20, 2013 1:39:14 PM PDT
William Thompson says:
Posted on May 19, 2014 12:52:39 PM PDT
Anita T. Monroe says:
Thank you for this review. I'm ordering the book.
In reply to an earlier post on Jul 2, 2014 6:40:07 PM PDT
Allen Horne says:
Posted on Mar 1, 2015 7:44:25 PM PST
A loser? I guess I didn't see him as a loser at all. I only read this novel because I read and loved Augustus about a month ago. I wanted to read anything by John Williams. So I found a copy of Stoner and immediately started reading. It is a very sad novel in many parts. But also quite joyous. I think maybe the saddest part is how Edith came between Stoner and Grace and, while the relationship was not totally ruined, it was never the same again. The writing is beautiful. Amazing what a talented writer can put into a novel of a man's life in less than 300 pages.
Yes, that ending was both beautiful to read and yet it was heartbreaking.
Along with Augustus, becomes one of my all-time favorite novels and I am sad that John Williams did not leave us with more novels and that his works are not celebrated as some of the finest novels any American ever wrote. Big thanks to NYRB Classics for publishing these works.
Next up? Butcher's Crossing.
Posted on Apr 22, 2015 8:01:55 PM PDT
Thank you, I'm going to buy the book.
Posted on Oct 21, 2015 6:19:55 PM PDT
Paul Bolivia says:
In reply to an earlier post on Feb 28, 2016 6:44:02 PM PST
Paul, you are told what happens in the first paragraph of the book. Stop being so overly melodramatic. And, by the way, there are virtually no spoilers at all in this great review.
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