Stoner by John Williams
Others (see links below) call it the perfect novel. I’m a little torn on that. I mean, is perfection applicable to anything? Tommi’s worst-cyncism aside. If one were to review the few and far between books I’ve read, then it’s clear that I’ve also read too little to even begin judging perfection. Beyond that, to make such a judgement, I would have to command a certain level of trust from you, dear worst-reader. For perfection and trust do coincide, right? Either way. As far as trust goes, you don’t want to go there or you might prefer staying on the other side of the room while I do. I remain curious to the idear of whether or not the perfect novel (can) actually exist(s). There are a few worst-readers out there, a few much better read than me, who consider this a perfect piece of work. And that’s where I’ll leave it. Perfection by the standards of others. Either that or it just might be the great American novel–which doesn’t have to be perfect. And. Finally. Let me move on.
Even though I’ve inadequatly admitted to being ignorant to “perfection”, after having read it, thoroughly enjoyed it, and almost read it a second time immediately after I was done, the thing that separates John Williams’ Stoner from Twain’s Huck Finn or Steinbeck’s Grapes (both read an enjoyed) or Ellison’s Invisible Man (which is still on my list; all three of which could be considered “perfect”) is something known as truth. What I mean is, as works of fiction go, the three novels mentioned are probably as close to perfect as perfect gets because they are so clearly true–yet are fiction. (Accentuate both “clearly” and “true”, please.) Or have I gone to far? Nomatter.
What makes Stoner great, like works from Steinbeck or Twain, is the literary portrayal of America and whether or not what they portray is as close to home as close gets. Even though the setting of Stoner is the world of collegiate academia, a world closed off to so many–including worstwriter–John Williams is able to shine total light on one of the legos that make up the whole house of cards on the verge of breaking that so many of us enjoy calling Amerika. By doing so, John Williams has created a profound and grotesque image within which is revealed the inner working secrets of American’t, of a society destined to fail, of the emptiness of minds, thought to be filled but instead is hollow.