Book Notes: John Williams’ Stoner

Your executive function is what helps you identify and achieve goals. Some people can organize a comfortable life for themselves while others exist in a constant state of discomfort. Their family life is never what they hoped. At work they are always doing what they don’t want to. They mope and complain but never actually do anything about it.

Stoner is a novel about a guy with a faulty executive function. He’s so helpless he can’t even organize a comfortable place for himself to read and grade papers. He’s neither stupid nor mean yet he spends his life in a state of bovine helplessness that turns out to be extremely destructive to people around him.

The novel’s great strength lies in the contrast between the placid tone of the narrative and the quiet horror into which the perennially helpless Stoner turns his, and what’s much worse his child’s life.

For those of us who have known a real-life Stoner this is a devastating novel. The harm such a person causes is too deep. People who haven’t been in close contact with a Stoner, however, might see him as a victim or a noble sufferer.

A great novel; highly recommended.

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