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)
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...
Unafraid to read from any genre.
Here's a scary story for you. Not one with fictional creatures or supernatural occurrences, but instead, a novel that details all the quiet miseries and disappointments we work-a-day stiffs endure throughout the course of a lifetime. It is not an escape, but a story that forces you to confront the choices you have made in your own life. The writing is done with great care and intelligence, so that the reader gets the sense that WIlliams truly knows this academic world and its inhabitants.
Stoner is so unsettling in its description of family and work life that I think we could cure the earth's overpopulation problem if this book became mandatory reading in the eighth grade.
In deciding to read "Stoner" I read a comment that it was "the best novel you've never heard of." I now agree. It's up there with Tolstoy's works. If my next paragraph does not totally repel you, you should read "Stoner."
There are reasons you've never heard of it. It's not a pleasant story. There's no action. The first few chapters, about the protagonist's youth, are boring. The most interesting parts are during the protagonist's middle age. (With subtle irony the author made the protagonist an expert in the literature of the Middle Ages). The heroism of the protagonist is through his stoicism, not his efforts or cleverness. He's trapped in an unsatisfactory life.
That said, "Stoner" is one of the most moving novels I've ever read. Haunting. Real. It's about mistakes and lost opportunities, and human frailties and pettiness. It's about coming to an understanding of self and life.
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.
It is not a spoiler to reveal that Professor William Stoner, the eponymous main character, dies at the end of this novel since that fact is revealed to us at the outset. His demise, as described there, causes so few ripples, such a small wake (and I use the word purposefully), that we must wonder if the narrative of his life can be worth reading. But it is--because this terribly, achingly ordinary life is made to sound extraordinary by the power and passion of the writing invested by John Williams in the character. And this is fitting inasmuch as the only real passion--albeit not the only love--in Stoner???s life is literature.
As in the naturalistic novels of the late nineteenth century, our attention is drawn to the harrowing burdens of Stoner???s existence far more than to his very few glories. He is victimized at so many turns that it is hard to consider him a protagonist, and yet, ultimately, his graceful stoicism and kindness gain in us a certain respect--especially in those of us who have ever asked ourselves if our lives will have made any difference to the world. The novel is a painful answer to that question. But if beauty is truth and if the discovery of truth does make live worth living, then this beautifully-crafted work is worth reading.
As an Audible Editor I listen for a living! British classics, YA novels, speculative fiction, and anything quirky, fascinating, or heart-wrenching.
John Williams' classic, which is having a bit of a renaissance at the moment, goes against the advice of every writing coach out there. It doesn’t show, it tells. It recounts the utterly quiet and straightforward life of a farm boy who becomes a mid-level English professor at the University of Missouri. He marries and has a child, and faces endless disappointments with a stoic and believable resolve. And if you don’t think that sounds like a story that would suck you right in, then you’re be wrong. Stoner is filled with equal parts melancholy and joy. It’s unputdownable - almost suspenseful in its own way - as it guides you thorough an unremarkable life that is nothing if not honorable, recognizable, and filled with truth. I don’t know how John Williams wrote a page-turner with such a subject, but he did, and I feel like my life is richer for having experienced it.
I write for myself, for my own pleasure. And I want to be left alone to do it. - Salinger ^(;,;)^
“Sometimes, immersed in his books, there would come to him the awareness of all that he did not know, of all that he had not read; and the serenity for which he labored was shattered as he realized the little time he had in life to read so much, to learn what he had to know.”
― John Williams, Stoner
If one considers the total professional output of John Williams, it is pretty difficult to find his equal for sheer brilliance. Each of his 3 major novels (Stoner, Butcher's Crossing, Augustus) is diverse in style, tone, and approach, but each seems to possess a unique beauty and quiet, often undersold magnificence.
I really feel I could return and feast on his novels again and again (and rereading ANYTHING is usually a nonstarter with me). This is a novel that is so good, if you could plan to finish your life reading one book, if the minutes of your life were timed delicately, planned to the page, you could end your life by reading the last sentence of 'Stoner'.
'Stoner' stands as a novel that spans the time between WWI and WWII and presents a narrator and character, a simple son of the soil, a Don Quixote without a Sancho, who seems to fail at most of life's battles, but upon close inspection his very life, and thus by extension, all of our very lives, also represents something as beautiful as a distant nebula and sweet as mountain water. The struggles, the disappointments, the pains, are all made heroic by Stoner's stoicism. Even in mediocrity there exists greatness, and in failure lodges the seeds of greatness. Death, in the final analysis, is not a period but rather an ellipsis, a tragic falling short, and finally an epic omission for both the meek and the triumphant.
I started this book with doubt -- from description and reviews it sounded underwhelming; and it was banal for the first part of the book. While on the one hand Stoner seems to let life happen to him rather than at least making people and circumstances meet him halfway; he does make decisions that sometimes improve his life, that reflect his principles, that are sensitive to those arround him, that keep life on an even keel which seems to be his preference. In the grand scheme of things, his life did not leave much of a mark, but then, isn't that true for the majority. For at least the last half of the book, I was drawn to listening to the book whenever I could.
The writing is exquisite and crisp. Stoner's inner thoughts, reactions, wishes, emotions were insightful and felt so real.
Not necessarily. Individual preferences in processing stories are different, even our moods can be different. Sometimes I like reading, sometimes I like listening.
Margaret Atwood's Hand Maid's Tale. Not the nature of the story (although both fiction) but the degree of detail, most intimate thoughts of the protagonist, the " naked truth" told, calm yet merciless.
Did a good job articulating author/protagonist's calm, plain narrative dotted with exquisite agonies when he first experiences "Love" not until he was middle aged.
When Stoner started to learn about true human caring and love.
Beautiful in the sense that it's some totally honest, bare, guileless. Ordinary human condition, extraordinarily written.
Besides incessant listening to audiobooks, I also read on my Kindle at night, birdwatch, garden (roses, daylilies), and do genealogy.
This book stopped me cold in my tracks. It was so much more than I expected.
In summary, it is a brilliant and haunting melancholic tale of a would-be farmer who became an English professor, who was a good man, who could have been truly great but for a certain passivity, and who wound up at the end of his days with many regrets about the choices he made. I came away from this audiobook feeling deeply affected. I feel so much empathy for William Stoner.
The publisher's summary is excellent. It tells you everything you need to know. Robin Field did a fine job of narrating. This very unusual book will be on my all time favorites list.
"Quiet and intence"
Life's a Bitch
We all live in our own heads with no instruction manual
The imposition of a new student in an already full class. This small act destroyed his life.
Life's a beach, then you marry.
As good as Faulks Human Traces.
This is a wonderful book. The reader managed to convey the core of Stoner's character, and the book's essence perfectly.
"One of the finest novels I have ever read"
I am not a scholar but have read a fairly wide range of books from Lawrence to chic lit. I feel that my simple review could not do this book justice.
What I can say is that this gentle tale of an ordinary life, with its disappointments, told in an extraordinary way, left me feeling reflective on my own life and weeping at the end. A truly humbling experience.
The narration is superb and felt perfect for the tale, the characters and the period.
This is a hidden literary pearl and I am bewildered that it has not shared the same shelves as modern classics. I defy anyone who has an appreciation of fine literature, to dislike this beautiful piece of writing.
The story is excellent. The absence of constant dramatic twists and turns makes the whole book feel more realistic and human, but the story is constantly engaging. Although the book would be great on its own, the addition of the really good narrator adds to the story's personal nature and sadness.
Although the subtle tragedy of the events that unfold over Stoner's life feels relentless, it frames the moments of joy and beauty so that the story of his life really leaves an impression.
The narration is perfect for the book. At first it seems a bit dull, but very quickly it becomes clear that the voice fits the character of the book and adds to the impact of the story.
Although I never wanted to give up or actively wanted to put it down, it was nice to listen to the book over a week or two. The story covers Stoner's whole life, so it was well suited to taking breaks between listening.
Although slowly paced, Stoner is a building, timeless classic. An uncomfortably honest portrayal of both Stoner's marriage and academic career.
"Very well written"
Slow to start and didn't think I was going to enjoy it. Turned out to be a really good read. Sad story and very thought provoking.
Thanks to audible for the 2 for 1 offers without which I might never have come across this wonderful tale. The prose is rich lyrical and erudite often reminding me of Hesse with its passionate searching for understanding of humanity and what part we have in the world.
The reading was equal to the book, reflecting every aspect of William Stoner's journey through life. Moving and with a modest dignity.
"Bleak with flashes of excellence, well performed"
A dull tragedy which has glimpses of brilliance but could have done with a good strong edit and is just too depressing to meet my tastes. The ending, oddly, is sort of happy, but everyone in the book is SO MISERABLE. I finished it because we were reading it for book club but I certainly didn't enjoy it. It wasn't unrealistic - the writing is actually good and frequently powerful - just terribly sad (and frequently overlong). One finds oneself exasperated and angry for a lot of the book.
The Audible production is excellent, however. The narrator is perfect for the material and is both versatile and subtle.
"Beautifully written ,"
Evokes deep sympathy for all the characters especially Stoner and his wife . Best book I've read for ages. Must listen
"An excellent listen!"
What an excellent find! An uneventful story about an unambitious man - but a character with so much depth that you just have to keep listening to learn how his life unfolds. Wonderfully narrated by Robin Field - his monotone style wouldn't work for some books, but for this it was spot on!
I rarely keep books on my i-phone for a second listen - but Stoner is on there and I anticipate returning to it many times. Recommended!
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