University Novels

Book-o-the-Day: Stoner by John Williams

Ah, the university novel. You know them, lined on the shelf in luxurious elbows: Lucky Jim, Straight Man, Death in a Tenured Position, Wonder Boys, I Am Charlotte Simmons, The Gaudy Night, etc. (I am sure you can name many others–go right ahead.)

We get the usual ideas of the Ivy Tower, layer after constructed layer, grazing grey skies of tile, the empty smiles (can I get a motion? I second that motion!), dusty classroom to cramped office to bewildering department meeting of the bewildered, a city made of suffering elephants, a Matryoshka doll (stop that metaphor!) of sad absurdity. (Here I am addressing English Departments, as do most of these novels. Makes sense, I suppose: Write what you know, and for many writers, the U is nursemaid, benefactor, sad (or happy?) reprieve.

Sad X 2 above, as device, for emphasis. Sad is the one cloistered within, wrapped in gauze and weak coffee, kept from the wobbles and needles and very real pains of the Real World, to fade, fade away…into self-laugh, self-hate, into nothingness.

But Stoner is not like these other novels (at least not the ones I have read).


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December 24th, 2009 / 10:00 pm