STONER – A Life Apart

Beauty is truth, truth beauty.” – John Keats

Your attention is turned elsewhere. The pages brown, dog-eared they curl inwards to your touch. The words fade and ink once bricked now pools around the centre: its no matter now. White sun fractures in on to you and through the glass it is faintly warm. Opening a window lets more in, the rising birds and falling leaves interest you, the last word read lingers in your mind but it gently fades as outside fills you with hues and motion: watery and undular. The pages fall asleep, the ratty cover closes, the book is weightier than it looks. You decide you might put it down – just for a minute – go and feel the wind.

John Williams’ Stoner opens with a brief summary of the titular man’s life: his minor achievements, his failed marriage, his death. Years are reduced to half a page and then fleshed out over the next 200 in astute, wise prose. Williams writes a man who, through no fault of his own, led a plain, somewhat disappointing existence full of tunnel-visioned, trivial frustration; nullifying, void-staring tragedy and pockets of the most warm, encompassing beauty: so precious and small but glowing that you yearn for its presence on the pages where it is not. And here lies the genius of the book, I have never felt so greatly as if I were reading just that – a book. 

Stoner is a testament to the power of prose, not only in its academic setting and focus on literature’s effect on the protagonist but in the way words provide meaning to the reader, bringing wonder, emotion and perspective to a life that is not your own. I have never felt so outside of a book whilst reading it, as if something so holistically and sweetly melancholic and deeply rooted in the pains of ordinary is all too real to be real. I was in control of William Stoner. With every turn of the page I aged him, with every part I reread I relished with him and my world seemed to close in more vivid around the pages than ever before.

And so around you, as you end his life and resume your own, the sun shines a little brighter, the mornings last a little longer, the seasons are a little sweeter… 

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Written by Caleb Carter
Artwork: "The Bookworm" by Carl Spitzweg

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