William Stoner is born at the end of the 19th century into a dirt-poor Missouri farming family. Sent to the state university to study agronomy, he instead falls in love with English literature and embraces a scholar's life, far different from the hardscrabble existence he has known. And yet as the years pass, Stoner encounters a succession of disappointments: marriage into a "proper" family estranges him from his parents; his career is stymied; his wife and daughter turn coldly away from him; a transforming experience of new love ends under threat of scandal. Driven ever deeper within himself, Stoner rediscovers the stoic silence of his forebears and confronts an essential solitude.
John Williams's luminous and deeply moving novel is a work of quiet perfection. William Stoner emerges from it not only as an archetypal American, but as an unlikely existential hero, standing, like a figure in a painting by Edward Hopper, in stark relief against an unforgiving world.
©1965 John Williams (P)2010 Blackstone Audio, Inc.
“A perfect novel, so well told and beautifully written, so deeply moving, it takes your breath away." (Morris Dickstein, New York Times Book Review )
“A masterly portrait of a truly virtuous and dedicated man.” (New Yorker)
“An exquisite study, bleak as Hopper, of a hopelessly honest academic at a meretricious Midwestern university. I had not known…that the kind of unsparing portrait of failed marriage shown in Stoner existed before John Cheever.” (Los Angeles Times)
I had never heard of this book but was so intrigued by the description (also the description at Amazon) that I decided to give it a try. It is a masterpiece -- one of the great novels of the 20th century. (So why hadn't I ever heard of it?) It's the story of a farmboy who attends the University of MO to study agriculture and falls in love with literature and becomes a professor of English literature at the same school. The book spans World War I & II. The story is almost emotionally devasastating but the author writes with such restraint -- showing not telling -- that the power is heightened all the more. Concealed art at its finest. I couldn';t put it down. Not boring for a moment. The narrator, Robin Field, is spot on perfect for this book. Great, great stuff.
First, this is now my favorite classic,which is funny because I had never heard of it before I found it on Audible. (They never teach the good stuff in high school). The reviews on this site pretty much sum up why it's so great, so if you're prepared to feel a bit sad when it's over then you'll probably love it.
My only complaint is about the narration, but I would NOT give the narration less than 4 stars. The problem for me was that Robin Field uses the same cadence for every line that isn't being spoken by a character, and for a few that are. It's sort of like when you're learning about iambic pentameter in 11th grade English, and the whole class ends up reading in a kind of monotone sing-song. And THEN he WALKED out TO the BARN and RAKED. It wasn't quite that bad, and the rhythm was less obvious than iambic pentameter, but I found myself nodding my head a little to the pattern and it was a bit distracting. His VOICE, though, is utterly hypnotic,and once I got past that rhythm issue each time I started listening I got pulled in and didn't want to turn it off.
Listening to this audiobook felt like listening to what my grandfather must have sounded like as a young man. That's part of the beauty of the story, too, that you truly feel like you're listening to someone's life story, not some glamorized, plot driven adventure. It touches you because it could BE you - it's one of those rare stories where the character's decisions are not what drives his story, they're just what determine how he lives with his simple disappointments.
A book which is very fascinating because of its plainness. The story is of an interesting character who lives an ordinary life. Doesn't excel. Doesn't achieve greatness. Isn't a hero. Isn't a villain. Just a normal guy who stoically faces a failed marriage, who loses relationship with his family, who fights for right on the job and is tormented because of his choice. Yet told in a fashion which makes the book more like a verbal Grant Wood's American Gothic tale. Hopeful and sad at the same time. It will live with me for some time. Also, well interpreted by reader Robin Field.
I like books and that's about it.
If ever I have read a book that moved me gently but to tears, that would be 'Stoner'. Akin to Stoner's happy days, I regretted the book ending so soon, but it could not come to a close at a better moment and the sadness that you will feel is going to be an acute one, which I surmised coming in waves and not continuously humming at the same pitch in 'Stoner'; the sadness will lap gently against you, you will be carried away. While pleasant dryness permeates Williams's writing, with the narrator's voice being attuned to it, there is little chance anyone could ever call it bland. If anything, this dryness intensifies complex emotions that the story evokes by acting as a counterweght, by keeping things mild, not overpronouncing them.
I hope you appreciate this book and if you do, you can try "The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter" by Carson McCullers that is of a similar sentiment.
There are books of the same chemical composition as dynamite. The only difference is that a piece of dynamite explodes once, whereas a book explodes a thousand times. ― Yevgeny Zamyatin
I'd say it was emotionally exhausting to listen to the book. There are no wars depicted; no atrocities described. But there's the tragedy of one man, the broken, or rather ruined promises, the futility of aspiration, and failure of love. Yes, it's a story about an ordinary life, not about superheroes we look up to, but we never come across them in real life.
It's a story that could have happened to any of us, about the things we're too afraid to do, and then regret not doing them. Vanity of vanities... Thus 'Stoner' is thought-provoking and pensive. Its sadness is reverberating. I listened to it in one sitting, but I had to stop the audio from time to time to recharge my 'battery'. And it took me some time to get down to it and write the review.
It was so hard to listen to the book, because of the emotional involvement and empathy I felt towards the protagonist. A brilliant and moving novel.
I have listened to approx 30 titles a year for last 5 years. Stoner goes in my top five fiction list. Not a wasted sentence; pitch perfect diction; not at all pedantic. An undiscovered classic of American literature.
Heartbreaking enthralling realistic
The consistency of the characters. Even when behavioral changes occurred they were not unrealistic but were fascinating.
He has a laconic delivery that is perfectly suited for this story.
I served in various positions in academia. One of the conclusions I made about the position of department chair was how difficult it was to accomplish positive change but the power to be negative is considerable. One of the dramatic conflicts in the book demonstrated that rather well.
I read or listen to as many as 3 or 4 books a week. Every once awhile one comes along that shows me the difference between a really good book and one that is solely entertaining- In my opinion this book is one of the best. If someone asks what the book is about it is very difficult to describe it in a way that will encourage one to read it. The reader or listener will be surprised how interesting and moving an ordinary life can be.
l'enfer c'est les autres
Very good fiction can be better than non-fiction at explaining your place in the universe and this book does just that by considering the life and times of just one character, William Stoner. There's not much to his story but for those of us who have had a fairly mediocre life (and who embrace that mediocrity) Stoner's story helps us understand ourselves just a little bit better. It's good to see that university politics never change over time. The stakes are so small making the professors ever more vicious.
As for the narrator, he made the events come alive and at times I felt as if I were alive in the early part of the last century while being transfixed by the story and the storyteller.
This book is truly a masterpiece of the human drama. It is the day to day life experiences that provide a framework for a life that we can identify and have empathy. Rarely have I ever been so moved by a book--wanting to tell the main character to pick a different path, but, realizing that the foundation that WIlliams has built- won't allow it. One of the best books I have ever read...
What an extraordinary and deeply touching book this is.
It is written so incredibly beautifully, the descriptions of the snow, of the eponymous hero's dying, of his love, his inner musings, his struggles, his hopes and his despair - all are written with such quiet and perfect observation, that one's own heart can follow almost inside of HIS heart.
This is a great classic. The author never lived to see it's sudden trajectory to the tops of European best-seller lists - and that is a great shame. Maybe not unlike Stoner's own experience of being unappreciated.
I cannot imagine why it has not reached the same appreciation in America as in Europe?
It is a sad book for sure, but sad in the way that it is so true to life, to the common experience - it is not the 'hero' so often sought - as the critic in the New Yorker wrote - Stoner is the opposite of Gatsby. Maybe in america people want their heroes to be flamboyant, glamorous and dramatic. (I'm not knocking Gatsby which is of course a great novel - but as 'Hero's' go - Stoner is the opposite )
The narration by Robin Field is also wonderful. He has a voice which seems to be naturally 'set' most of the time in the minor key - which is perfect for this book. However - at the other times where an outburst of anger or other emotion is called for - he conveys that in a way that is all the more shocking having listened to the almost melancholic tone of the rest of the reading.
This is a book so precious and extra-ordinary that I have also bought its typed version.
"A life perfectly summarised"
There is a short section right towards the end of this excellent novel that perfectly and concisely summarises all that has gone before - puts everything in context, identifies the meaning, the significance and draws together all that has been proposed and learned in constructing and estimation of this life.
It is very easy to draw a comparison and contrast chart with Ian McEwan’s On Chesil Beach and to look again at the shortcomings of the last novel that I read before this one - Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch. But, ideally, great novels and literature should be allowed and deserve to stand and be considered on their own. The dry, mid-Western tone, the stale taste of classroom, library and books, the heaped insignificance of small conversations and long carried burdens of petty resentments and the difficult conversation not had.....I loved every page of it and felt that the final section delivered back more than my money’s worth as a reflective exercise on the considerations and insight that make up a life closely observe.
The fact that the author departed the scene before all of the plaudits came adds to the piquancy of the sensation that has and will grow up around this one. It has all the essential elements that is required of the contemporary literary myth - but delivers an engaging and wonderful read and is a great reminder of just how good mid-twentieth century American literature became. Think DeLillo, think Updike, think Richard Yates, read John Williams!
"A life so ordinary so well told ."
There is a slow and painful inevitability about this quiet masterpiece .
The combination of narrator and content has resulted in a modern classic which has a most profound effect, how this book remained under the literary radar for so long is a mystery, no more need be said, just listen quietly and reflect .
"Slow and frugal writing"
Finally a book that deserves each of its five stars. Written in 1965 and forgotten for 40 years this book was recently voted Book of the Year, and it is easy to see why. It is a very simple tale of a simple man – an academic who comes from a very modest background and achieves virtually nothing in his lifetime. He watches as his life happens to him and watches as it slips past. He is mild mannered and polite but fails to take a stand on any issue or on any relationship in his life. He has the opportunity on several occasions: an ethical choice which he gets right but executes badly; and a love choice which he lets slip.
The world happens to him, his life is thrust upon him and with a barely detectable shrug he accepts it and moves on.
The sum of the plot is revealed on the first page of the first chapter. It is not for intrigue that one should read the book but for the writing. In style this is somewhere between John Steinbeck and William Faulkner and Franz Kafka. It is slow, measured and carefully descriptive – perfectly in keeping with each tentative thought of William Stoner. Some of JM Coetzee’s early work is similar.
Reading the biography of the author one wonders how autobiographical the story is – two novels published in a lifetime, one receives some acclaim and then evaporates from view for 40 years.
I strongly recommend it, not for reading while lying on the beach – stick to a thriller. But when you are in a contemplative mood and thinking about what to make of 2014 and beyond this would be perfect material.
The narrator's reedy monotone is absolutely perfect for the story - his characterisation is spot on.
"Small, gentle, but perfectly formed"
A novel in the form of a biography - that classic form: Stoner is born, lives his life and end ups dying. But if a life unexamined is not worth living, examining a few more lives than just your own seems worthwhile too. William Stoner was born in 1891, Missouri USA, lived through two world wars, prohibition and depression, and dies in 1956. The book was written in 1965. Different age - that of my grandfather, say, so there is a historical/nostalgic element too. I don't know why this classic form of third party narrated story-telling has fallen out of fashion, I prefer it to most modern, fast moving, fantastical novels I have read in recent years.
Narrator speaks a bit like Kevin Spacey in House of Cards (especially in the first chapters). I loved that too.
This novel was a revelation: as quiet a book as i have ever read, it reduced me to tears several times and admiration throughout.
This was absolutely heartbreaking but I loved every minute of it.
It is a life so well observed. The book was beautifully written.
The character of William Stoner will live with me for a long time.
This is one of the best audiobooks I've ever listened to. Both the story and the narrator were superb. Beautifully written and read. I highly recommend this book.
I loved the precision of the writing that was essentially not an especially eventful life.
William Stoner comes across as very much an understated hero with amazing amounts of patience and tolerance.
The book made me think about the effect of beautiful writing. At one point I remember thinking how clever John William had been to make the language he was using almost invisible if that doesn't sound a contradiction - but he was merely providing a beautifully transparent lens into Stoner's life.
Excellent book. I will explore more both the writer and reader.
"The quiet heroism of a small life lived well"
This novel is majestically understated.
It is a bleak novel, but it does not ask for you to pity the hero. Instead, it gently paints the portrait of a man, who becomes great through nothing more than remaining decent and unaltered by the forces around him.
I don't think it is a coincidence that the narrator has an echo of the laconic drawl of James Stewart. I felt a similar feeling about Mr Stoner as I did about George Bailey in It's a Wonderful Life- although Stoner it a dark and bleak classic, and IAWL is a MUCH lighter weighted fare, with saccharine added thoughout- so the analogy goes no further than the admiration of the man who chooses to surrender ambition, and make his life mean something through some other means.
A word about the way the book ends. It moved me like I have not been moved by writing before...
I cannot rate this book highly enough.
"Completely loved this"
Best book I've listened to (read) in a while and have purchased a paper copy to read again and keep. Wonderful writing about an ordinary life. Narrator particularly good and will be looking at what else he has read as I found his performance perfectly measured.
"A Sad and Moving Book"
I loved this gentle, slow-paced account of a good man who lives an ordinary life. Not much happens to him but we are captivated by his integrity and compassion.
The narration is perfect for the plot.
It is also a time capsule of American life between the wars - a fascinating piece of social history.
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