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My husband says it’s probably the best novel he’s ever read…and he’s read a lot of them. This is what he said about the book:

“When I finished reading “Stoner” I stood, paced back and forth, exhaled and uttered ,”Wow, wow, wow”. Perhaps the finest American novel I have read. Wm Stone a loser? Perhaps, but who cannot identify?

The writing is austere, no wasted words but it flows, the characters are palpable and substantive, the novel has a simple awkwardness and sense of impending dread but also a delicacy, significant wisdom and soul. “Stoner” will be in my thoughts for a long time.

I have read it twice and will probably do again.
It’s not for everyone and I am reluctant to recommend it to many.
Somehow masculine — not sure how women would identify / react
It should be read by males in their 60’s…. selected males……”

So I was curious.

Letter to my husband:
Have been having some thoughts about Stoner and how I identify with him so far into the book. I’m only on the 4th Chapter.

When I left Bonanza in the 7th grade I was already feeling broken. The kids wouldn’t let me sit on the bus. Pushed me up against the wall in the halls. I remember I gave up on the bus and walked the 2 miles to school. If I rode my bike to town the kids would push me off and scratch my bike.

I remember, walking across the bridge and looking into the water below, feeling the dread that there was something wrong with me. But I didn’t dare tell my mother because I didn’t want her to know there was something wrong with me too.

My only friend was Bonnie Weiser, a Klamath Indian. Then in the 5th grade the teacher asked all of us to say what our nationality was. I gave mine and all the kids turned around and looked at me in surprise. I realized later that they had all thought I was a Klamath Indian and treated me like they did all the other Indians.

Then in the 7th grade I went to school in Klamath. I had no social skills whatsoever and had to learn them from scratch. I remember sitting in front of Jim Novak and my dandruff would drop on his desk which he hated. I was never invited to hang out with the other kids at their houses after school. I didn’t know how to comb my hair. A couple of girls took pity on me and asked to style my hair one day after school.

I lived for awhile with an upper middle class family but they never accepted me as part of the family and pretty much ignored me. I just hid in my room. Finally they asked my mother to find another place for me.

That’s when I lived in a spare bedroom (a big closet really) off the kitchen in the house of an old couple who were retired friends of my parents. I was supposed to buy my own food and prepare it in their kitchen. They never asked me to join them for a meal. I remember it was the loneliest period of my life.

One night I was starved and cut off tiny pieces of cake at a time that the lady left on the kitchen table. They had a friend visit one evening and I heard, from my room, that she had discovered half the cake gone. I was mortified.

Then one of the nuns suggested I stay with the Ehreth’s. Their pretty blond daughter was the most popular girl in the school. She was embarrassed that I was living with them and refused to walk to school with me. Finally Linda’s dad told my parents about how Linda was treating me and said that it was better for me if they found another place. I finished out the year riding back and forth with a man from Bonanza who worked in Klamath.

Then came the 8th grade. My mother used to stay in the “Ladies Lounge” in Klamath while my dad was running errands. She had a friend who had a boarding house behind the library and across the street from the city jail. I had a room with a hot plate, refrigerator and bed. The couple and their grown daughter, 18, had just lost her husband in a motorcycle accident. They would let me come down to watch TV with them in their cozy living room.

I would help the lady in the kitchen when the jailers would walk across the street in chains for their meals. They would leer at me…I was mature looking for my age. Another woman was in the same boarding house. A dyke I later realized. She always wanted to talk to me but I recoiled. She said people called her a snake. I felt sorry for her though. I spent most of my free time perusing books in the City Library and remember finding the poetry and stories of Jack London.

Slowly I picked up some social skills and began to talk to the kids in school. It was trial and error.

By high school I slowly picked up some confidence and made some friends. I was a fast typer and got some positive feedback from the nuns when I got interested in school activities Read Catcher In the Rye which gave me some insight into the other kids in school. I excelled in the literature classes.

By the time I was a senior I was the editor of the school newspaper and at the end of the year, Home Coming Queen. But I realized later, it was the boys in the Letterman’s Club who voted, and they wanted a girl who was pretty to show off to friends in other schools.

Then came the Univ of Portland. The very good looking high school football coach, (25 at the time) who had asked me out on a date the day after graduation, also had gone to the Univ of Portland. One day he was hanging out off campus in a bar. He asked some Univ students who the hot freshman girl was in school that year. They named me. So of course the coach, who had continued to date me my freshman year, told me. And advised me to “be careful.”

I asked a guy who I had dated in high school and also going to the Univ of Portland about it. He said I was too visible on campus and I should be careful too. I felt like a weirdo. I’ve come to hate that word “careful.”

I started having weird experiences in the student union with whole tables of guys leering and laughing when I walked in. Once in awhile one of them would ask me out. I caught up with Jerry DeNault who was a friend of mine in high school and also was going to the Univ. I told him what the coach said (Jerry played football with this coach in high school) and what the other guy said and asked what was wrong with me. Jerry said, ok, one of those guys in the student union asked you out. Probably they picked someone to do it and see if you would put out. Then he said, what do you think he told the guys in the dorm when he got back from the date and they asked if he got anything. The answer would be, he said, “What do you think?” Then turn and walk off. Fuckers!!!

From then on I didn’t date at all until I met you. You freed me from the feeling I got from those fuckers in the univ. I remember you wanted to get it on and I said no. (I had never had sex before.) You asked why. I said, because you wouldn’t respect me. You said an emphatic: HORSESHIT!

That’s all I needed to hear. It was my sexual liberation in that one word! It elicited an incredible feeling of gratitude in me and
I opened myself to you.

It has been a life of continuing to learn social skills and to understand that people are contradictory and complex through my experiences and my reading. Not unlike just about everyone else who probably had similar but a little different experiences to mine. No one is really unique although we think we are. Partly the familial background, partly economic, partly whatever. I’ve come to realize it’s universal. It’s just the particulars that are different.

And adolescence is the worst part of it because we are so unwitting. And no one is there to tell us how to wind our way through the thicket. It makes some of us stronger and breaks some of us. It’s why I’ve had so much empathy with young people in our CREATE program and continue to have with my young surfers.

One of the reasons I’m telling you all this is because I always felt that you and your mom thought I was born with a silver spoon in my mouth and that I was a spoiled brat. And it was up to you to take me down a notch.

Of course I wasn’t going to let anyone undo what I had worked so hard for. How little either of you could have known the struggle I had to gain confidence, strength and self esteem. Even your mother had a struggle (with unloving parents as she told me.)

Why does everyone always think it’s the other guy that has it good and we are the only ones who have it hard? Because we wear masks. Because we are afraid to allow ourselves to be vulnerable enough to tell our stories to one another. But it’s that vulnerability that is so lovable. We are our own worst enemies.

Stoner is universal.

I have delayed reading this ever since you mentioned it. I started it yesterday with some trepidation fearing that you had identified me with Edith. I no longer have any fear of that but I haven’t finished
the book either.

I just finished chapter 4. His detailed descriptions of Stoner’s inner perceptions, or lack of, sets up an incredible tension. Of course I can identify so far with him. I grew up with many males just like him. And I was a bit like him when I left Bonanza for school in Klamath Falls. The transition from country mouse to city mouse was humiliating and painful. And then after a couple of years, dating the fellows from the country was insufferably boring.

It was reading Catcher In The Rye that blew the lid off me. Then “Siddhartha”-Hermann Hesse, “Razor’s Edge”-Somerset Maugham. The Existentialists. Orwell. Outsiders, iconoclasts and the Beats. Then came meditation and books like “Be Here Now” Ram Dass; “Tao of Physics.” Huxely “Doors Of Perception” “The Elegant Universe” Brian Greene on String Theory. Ivan Illich and Gustavo Esteva on “unschooling” is curing me of the do-gooder-save-the-world syndrome. Lately Slavoj Zizek and Kapuchinski

The only problem so far is that the author didn’t flesh out very well Stoner’s interest in English Lit other entering the field at the suggestion of his professor. But didn’t the study of authors provide or elicit any insight into human behavior at all? Who were the authors who slit open a crack to let the light in? But maybe that is the point. None did. So far. I have a feeling his marriage will though.

His interest in Edith was a fantasy of his own making. It was his first inner response to another human being and it opened him up for tragedy that I see coming.

I think we must continually question ourselves as well as authority. The strongest survival instinct is self deception because the illusion of our identity depends on it. What we believe about ourselves does not necessarily reflect who we are. So beliefs can be a prison. It isn’t always comfortable to look ourselves in the eye. But this is where ethical behavior originates. Not from authority telling us how to behave.

I’m looking forward to reading how he develops an identity and what he does with it. I don’t see him as a loser so far. He is just the amalgamation of every person who is honest enough to look themselves in the eye.

I really appreciate your response to the book. That is powerful. But the book may be actually for everyone. I can’t tell yet. I think I’ll be reading all day today! 🙂

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