Wednesday, February 6, 2008

STONER by John Williams

John Williams's Stoner is a good minor novel. Not great, but an excellent example of the best aspects of American regionalism: psychological and sociological insight married to an almost poetic lyricism. It's the kind of novel Thomas Hardy might have written had he been a midcentury American academic. (Bizarre thought.) It is a quite well-written novel, but not an extremely well-constructed one. The narrative is too episodic and lacks sufficient integration of the various themes. Also, Williams's physical 'marking' of the antagonist Lomax (and his protege Walker) with a physical deformity seems a bit overdone, the sort of thing we might find in the medieval texts Stoner studies but which strains credulity in the naturalistic 20th-century context in which Stoner appears. There's also a nasty little puritanical implication of homosexuality between the cripples--something Williams fails to explore beyond ambiguous innuendo. Indeed, the Walker character is left hanging as a narrative loose end, isn't he? So, despite a recent NYT rave, Stoner is not a 'perfect' book. It's not one that compels re-reading, either.

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