Stoner was in the bag as I waited for the train at Brussels’ Gare Centrale to bring me to Amsterdam. If I didn’t know that the book is named after the protagonist, William Stoner, I might have cast it aside as being a novel about someone who is constantly stoned.
While the title seems a little odd – how often do you come across a fictional story named after its main character? – I can’t think of something better. In some ways, the straightforward, no nonsense name of the book reflects the unassuming character that is Stoner himself, who almost always seem resigned to his life, meandering along in his quiet restrained manner.
Some reviews refer to the book as a bleak tale about loneliness, others about how it follows the life of an ordinary man. Loneliness, yes, I agree. But was he really ordinary? After all, he was the only son of a pair of poor farmers who became an associate professor at a university, after changing his degree to English Literature (from Agricultural Science), in the early 20th century.
The woman with whom he fell in love with at first sight and married turned out to be a selfish bitch who’s incapable of giving love. His daughter was used, and in turn, damaged, by his wife to wage a war with Stoner and/or channel her own inadequacies. He seemed to have been a mediocre professor at the university for the most part and ended up in a long conflict with a colleague who was bent on making his life miserable.
The few things that he allowed him to want/desire and set out to achieve included his university education, his wife (which turned out to be a lifelong mistake), and a passionate love affair with a younger instructor at school. The few bright sparks that transpired in Stoner’s lonely life inevitably get put out by his circumstances.
The story is simply narrated in chronological order with elegant prose. I was drawn into it and rooted for dear old Stoner, for him to take the reins of his life, to get rid of those who poison it, and to succeed and be happy. But it seems like his life was precisely as what his deceased friend, Dave Masters, had said to him when they were in their early twenties:
“… Who are you? A simple son of the soil, as you pretend to yourself? Oh, no. You, too, are among the infirm – you are the dreamer, the madman in a madder world, our own midwestern Don Quixote without his Sancho, gamboling under the blue sky. You’re bright enough… but you have the taint, the old infirmity. You think there’s something here, something to find. Well, in the world you’d learn soon enough. You, too, are cut out for failure; not that you’d fight the world. You’d let it chew you up and spit you out, and you’d lie there wondering what was wrong. Because you’d always expect the world to be something it wasn’t, something it had no wish to be… you couldn’t fight them; because you’re to weak, and you’re too strong. And you have no place to go in the world.”
P.S. This photo was taken on the balcony of the lovely apartment that we rented via AirBnB.com. It was a sunny morning as I sat there reading Stoner while drinking some delicious juice from Albert Heijn (the best supermarket in Europe!) The ‘Trailerpark Queen’ ash tray was on the side table. I like how there are bits of red in these three items : )