Is it just me - or do the slender novels published by the NYRB pack a serious emotional punch? I ask because I've just finished John Williams's Stoner, a captivating, but ultimately devastating, book of memory and redemption.
Set on the campus of the University of Missouri in the years between the First and Second World Wars, the novel charts the loneliness attached to the Academic Life. There were moments in Stoner (which takes its name from the novel's central character, William Stoner) which approached a sort of American Existential: for as the aging professor contemplates his career, Williams constructs a universe tinged with sorrow, one which resembles the atmosphere of Cather's The Professor's House. The difference, however, is that Williams is unrelenting - positively unrelenting - in his quest for the meaning of regret. (And I mean no disrespect to Cather, because I enjoyed The Professor's House.)
This book really is a masterpiece - a quiet, unassuming masterpiece in which Williams captures the missed opportunities that, in the end, return to us with a frightening, unavoidable consistency. I leave the last word for Williams (271):
"And like any traveler, he felt that there were many things he had to do before he left; yet he could not think what they were."