Despite the name that brings connotations unrelated to the book, this was a wonderful book, prompting me to burn the light well past midnight to drive furiously to the end, then toss and turn for hours as I thought about the story while trying to fall asleep. Bill Stoner is the main character, a farm boy in rural Ohio whose father decides to send him to college to learn the science of agriculture and pick up tricks that might improve farming on their family plot. While at school, Stoner works for his mother’s cousin for room and board, managing their farm while he studied and went to school. Along the way, Stoner falls head first into love with literature, gives up Ag studies, and begins the relentless march towards becoming a professor.
He picks up a wife along the way (Edith), who openly hates him. The one time they have sex, Edith gets pregnant with their daughter Grace, a saving force in Stoner’s life. Stoner finds refuge in his work, discovers that he is a good teacher. His students seek him out, he begins a salon of discussion and ideas at his house when his wife is away. Edith comes back to wage war on him, pushing him out of his study, shrilling trying out her new brittle voice acquired while away. He retreats to his office at school, and then later finds salvation in the arms of a graduate student named Katherine, the first love of his life.
Pivotal to the story is Stoner’s rejection of a doctoral candidate, Walker, a cripple who lazily tries to skate by without any real knowledge of literature, and who is the pet student of Lomax, destined to become the department chairman. Thus begins a feud between Lomax and Stoner, resulting in their not speaking for 20 years. Lomax becomes chairman and dictates the worst class schedules for Stoner, teaching only freshmen, 6 days a week at widely varying times. Stoner puts up with it for awhile, and then throws the syllabus out the window and begins teaching his upper-level course to the freshmen, who complain. Lomax has no choice but to reinstate Stoner’s advanced classes.
It all ends in death, cancer (of course), but also in Grace’s departure from the home via pregnancy, marriage, alcoholism. Katherine’s book is dedicated to WS, naturally. Stoner’s last act was to reach for his own book, grabbing it and letting it fall to the floor in his death.