Bookmarked: William Stoner and the Battle for the Inner Life, Steve Almond 2019
This is a very weird book that I came very close to dropping several times before plugging along and finally finding it meaningful. Almond is clearly a challenged and challenging individual who writes this book in an attempt to come to terms with his own personality and life struggles (marriage, fatherhood, his parents, career, etc) by a close and repetitive analytic reading of John William’s 1965 cult novel, Stoner. I have loved the two previous memoirs I’ve read that are structured around viewing one’s life in the context of a particular book or author’s work. Rebecca Mead’s 2014 ‘My Life in Middlemarch’ (#1707) and Kathryn Smyth’s 2019 ‘All the Lives We Ever Lived: Seeking Solace in Virginia Woolf'(#2410) were both well written explorations of how great literature can help one to find at least some answers to life’s questions, and I found both the authors and the works by Eliot and Woolf to be interesting and thought provoking. In contrast, Almond is not easy to like. A self-described ‘feuder’ with a martyr complex and a set of unattractive behaviors he attributes to his two psychiatrist parents and a childhood filled with anger and conflict with his two brothers, Almond is a major whiner. He seeks guidance in a novel that has become a cult classic for the literati but remains largely unknown to the wider reading public. William Stoner, Almond’s model, is another guy who is not easy to love. Passive, stoic, largely failed in his marriage, parenting, and career, Stoner is an unlikely model for anyone, but Almond digs deeply into the text and ultimately settles on this sentence that describes Stoner’s state of mind as he lays dying: “He was himself, and he know what he had been”. At the end of the day, Almond, like Stoner, decides that he is what he is and spending energy fighting that fact and struggling with the outside world is not worth it. He points out that accepting oneself and spending more time internally trying to understand that self are the solutions to a world beset with loss, anger, and Trump who Almond deeply dislikes and blames for much of the current greed-focused disasters in our society. The final chapters about being a son to a dying mother and being a parent to three young children are worth slogging through the rest of this quirky, but ultimately satisfying book.