John Williams’ novel, Stoner, celebrates 50 years

The book Stoner, which takes place on MU's campus, will be adapted into a film starring Casey Affleck.

It has been said that the fans of Stoner are part of a secret club, but that club is about to be not so secret anymore. 

The book is set on MU’s campus in the early 1900s and documents the life of a farm boy, William Stoner, whose love for literature leads him to the heart of Columbia. Stoner follows that love and becomes an English professor at the university; the book goes on to show Stoner’s life through work and love, and the struggles those two bring.

Speer Morgan, MU English professor and editor of The Missouri Review, remembers the first time he read the book and the impact it had on him. He was en route to Columbia for his new job in the MU Department of English, and he almost considered turning around because the book was “such a bummer.”

For quite some time, Stoner hadn't been considered a popular book. The New Yorker even called it, “The Greatest American novel you have never heard of.” When the book first came out it in 1965, it only sold 2,000 copies, and, according to Publishers Weekly, it wasn’t until the New York Review Books Classics reissued it in 2006 that it gained traction and its audience grew.

Morgan says he thinks fans of the book fell in love with it because it is such a realistic story with no hidden themes, and it shows what Stoner’s life is like from start to finish. He says Stoner is a wonderful example of the natural survival of a fine but unlikely piece of art.

Samuel Cohen, associate professor in MU’s Department of English, says, "The book doesn't flinch in telling a pretty tough story," he says, "and it somehow manages to not be completely crushing, but somehow ends up being beautiful.”

This leaves fans wondering if the writing will translate well to film.

As a fan of the book, Cohen thinks making the movie will be difficult: “It does tell the story of an entire life, cradle to grave, which might work in a film, but so much of what’s good about it comes out in the writing, in the sentences, so that will be lost.”

Morgan says he doesn’t doubt that it can be done, but he thinks this will be the perfect challenge for the people involved with the film to see if they can handle this type of realism.

Casey Affleck, most known for his award-winning performance in Manchester by the Sea, is set to play William Stoner.

Cohen says he doesn’t see Affleck fitting for the role because of his previous roles in the Ocean’s movies. “When you love a novel and get attached to a character in the way you do," he says, "you usually do have a hard time seeing an actor play them.”

Morgan has an opposing view. He says he thinks the director and main character decision are a great fit, that they can do the realism that is needed to make this film work. “Affleck is the perfect star for this movie because he can be so distracted and perplexed, and he carries that so naturally that it will fit Stoner well,” he says. 

Since the book is set on MU’s campus, we can only assume a couple of Columbia's landmarks will make an appearance. Will we see the historic columns or catch a glimpse of Jesse? For now, we can only hope since no details of the filming have been released.

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