The Tragedy of a Man Who Loves his Books

Stoner - John Edward Williams


When you discover that this book is about the life of a university lecturer you may automatically think about a certain movie in which a certain music teacher has a dream of creating a fantastic piece of music only to find himself trapped in a high school teaching music until his retirement to then discover the impact that he has actually had on all of the students that had passed through his class – and you would be wrong. Or, you could think about a high school chemistry teacher that discovers that he has cancer and to provide for his family decides to start cooking meth and, well, you would be wrong again. Mind you, with a title like Stoner (and the fact that is was written in 1965) you might end up thinking the the book is about somebody like this:



A Stoner


and, well, I guess you would be wrong again, though one sometimes wonders if the fact that William Stoner is actually a university English teacher then he must have had the occasional smoke, but in all seriousness the only drugs that appears in this book is a glass of whisky and a half-empty bottle of Sherry that is so old that one ought to throw it out (despite the fact that it probably will give you hallucinations).



However, I should say something about this particular book, and in a way it actually feels as if it is one of those feel good books, namely because upon reading it you feel somewhat relieved that your life is nowhere near as bad as Stoner's. Look, there are a couple of things I envy about the guy (okay, one, other than the name, and that is the fact that he is a lecturer in the liberal arts, and gets to have sex with a heaps intelligent post-grad, even though it is only an affair), however when you consider what has gone wrong with his life I guess one's envy of the fact that he is a lecturer pails in comparison.



It is not that his life started off bad but it appears that he made some choices that set his life on a course of what one could consider to be ordinary, though I would suggest that an ordinary life would be much better than the life he had. For instance, after taking a dislike at a poser of a post-grad (and as I think about it, he did give this particular post-grad a lot of chances) and basically seeing through his rubbish, he earned the eternal enmity of another lecturer (who seemed to stick up for this particular student to the point that makes you wonder if there were some shenanigans going on behind closed doors) which resulted in his career going nowhere. Mind you sometimes the idea of climbing the corporate ladder can result in a lot more burn out than simply being content with the job one currently has, though the problem with the world in which we live is that rewards seem to be commemorate with how high up the management ladder you are, and some of the good jobs can only be obtained if you have actually held a management role. However I digress.



Then there was that nightmare of a woman that he ended up marrying. I'm not really sure about this Edith woman, and sometimes I wonder if this particular woman was unrealistic because I find it very hard to believe that such a person could actually exist in real life. I'm not even sure if I could blame Stoner for making the wrong choice because it seemed like it was only after the wedding vowels that Edith began to show her true colours. In a way, if the saying 'behind every great man is an equality great woman' then maybe this book is suggesting that 'behind every rank failure is a bitch of a wife'. That's probably being a bit harsh, but then the picture that Williams paints or, or should I say tar and feathers, Edith, I sometimes wonder if he has a rather nasty misogynistic streak running through him.

Anyway, I want to finish off by looking at some of the ideas that comes out of another review that I read a while back, and that is what I will refer to as 'The Death of the American Dream'. It was something that I never really thought about until my American History lecturer one day began to ridicule the whole idea of the inalienable right of the pursuit of happiness. It is not so much that it is such a vague concept, but it does not necessarily define what happiness is, and suggests that if one is not happy then there is something wrong with them. However it is not so much an American thing but in many cases an Anglo thing. Yet consider the fact that depression is literally running rampant in our socirty, which makes us wonder whether this whole idea of happiness is actually working, or whether the American experiment has failed. Or what about the rights of others to be happy – what happens if your desire to be happy ends up forcing others into depression, and if you cannot do what you want to be happy then you are forced into depression. As for Stoner we cannot even consider whether he is happy – he seems to persevere against struggles that mere mortals like me would cave under, yet one wonders if, at the end, he dies happy – I don't think so, but I guess I will throw that open to a debate because while I have my own opinion, I really can't be bothered using the spoiler tab at this point in time.