Recently I was in a bookstore looking for something to read on an airplane. (Boulder Bookstore in Boulder, Colo., just so you know. Don’t want a miss the chance to give a shout-out to an indie.) I idly picked up a novel from the table at the front of the store, and read these blurbs:
“…something rarer than a great novel—this is a perfect novel, so well told and beautifully written, so deeply moving, it takes your breath away.”—The New York Times Book Review
“Once in a while, a novel comes along so remarkable in its quality that it stands out not only as an example of what well-written fiction should be, but also as a satisfying reading experience all by itself…one of the most extraordinarily fine novels published in the past fifty years.”—The Dallas Morning News
“In over 80,000 words there is not a single superfluous phrase. Every sentence is crafted with delicacy and necessity.”—South Mississippi Sun Herald
Well, heck. Of course I bought it and read it. The book is STONER, by John Williams, first published in 1965. At heart, it’s a story about a farm boy who goes to college and becomes a teacher. The main character, William Stoner, is fairly passive; his marriage is lonely; he becomes estranged from his only child, who has a sad life of her own. So what is it about this book?
I found it riveting and couldn’t put it down. My mother found it unbearably sad. People I know who have read it have alternately called it “depressing” or “beautiful” or “depressing and beautiful.” But it’s a great book. And the things that make it great, I believe, are key elements that every writer can learn from and strive for: [Read more…]