It might not qualify as the best opening lines in fiction, and if John Williams (1922-1994) had have submitted this to an agent in 2015:
“William Stoner entered the University of Missouri as a freshman in the year 1910, at the age of nineteen.”
Chances are it wouldn’t have risen up and out of the slush pile. But do yourself a favor this summer and get Stoner!
“Stoner,” the novel by John Williams, has been reissued by the invaluable New York Review Books series, with an introduction by the great Irish author, John McGahern. Here is what McGahern (By the Lake, Amongst Women, The Dark, The Barracks) had to say about Stoner:
“If the novel can be said to have one central idea, it is surely that of love, the many forms love takes and all the forces that oppose it.”
In these days of the shortest of short attention spans, first lines of fiction usually clump in the extraordinarily clever or brilliantly concise, say in the variety of George Orwell’s “1984”: It was bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”
But then there are those that catch fire like “Stoner” does, and don’t stop burning brightly until the end, with, in his case, perfectly chosen words in a final passage that leave us in awe of what it can mean to tell a story as large as life itself from such a simple beginning.
Next: Running for Your Life: If the Greats Were With Us Thursday