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)
Say something about yourself!
A sad, interesting story of a dedicated teacher abused by fate. The characterizations are brilliantly written, with Stoner a supreme man of pathos. I'm glad to have found this book.
I'd listen to the book over and over again if I didn't think it would make me weep in public places.
Stoner is -- well, a singular literary creation.
The reader stands back and lets the book do its job.
I just loved it.
I found it moving and some beautiful writing, but so bleak, so frustrating that he was unable to be more assertive and express his needs, and he was such a withered character in himself – depicted powerfully by the writer. However my sympathy was engaged with him and the other unfulfilled characters – his bitter wife, his destroyed daughter, the envious, revengeful and bitter academic rivals, and his briefly involved parents - like scarecrows in themselves.
I love listening to books when cycling, paddleboarding, etc but I press pause when I need to concentrate. Its safer & I don't lose the plot!
This is quite a downbeat, somewhat depressing, story about a very passive country boy who goes to college to learn agriculture, and switches to become an English teacher. He repeatedly, frustratingly, allows other people's actions to influence his life profoundly. He is talented but unselfish, resilient and tolerant to a fault. He allows other people to suppress his happiness and seems to accept whatever misery others inflict upon him without offering much resistance.
Despite this, it is a good book to listen to. The story is well written and well read, and engages the listener with its poetic melancholy charm.
"If only I would have loved her more. " When will we push aside the trivialities of day to day life and appreciate the miracle of everyday. We meander through Stoner ' s life and we look at choices.....choices we ourselves have made hoping to find the outcome we want but not putting in the effort to make it so. Let us learn something here.....let us live and love before it is too late.
I realized what would happen with his wife before the story told me.
Mousy male voice like I would expect of a younger Stoner
The ending (no spoilers)
Read this book
Stoner was really good. I enjoyed the time period and really liked the character of Stoner but so many times I just wanted to yell at him for letting the world walk all over him.
I love reading and listening to books, especially fantasy, science fiction, children's, historical, and classics.
Picture a typical epic fantasy story wherein a plucky hero with unique powers leaves his hometown to fight against the forces of evil to save the world. John Williams' historical novel Stoner (1965), about a thoughtful, diligent, and intelligent (but not brilliant) academic everyman who never travels, learns to drive, or becomes a full professor, would appear to be the opposite kind of story. According to the first paragraphs of the novel, William Stoner entered the University of Missouri at age 19 in 1910, earned his PhD and became an instructor there during WWI, and died in 1956 as an assistant professor mostly forgotten by students and colleagues. Why would anyone want to read a novel filling in the details of such a life!?
Such is John Williams' skill, empathy, and imagination, however, that from the moment Stoner has an epiphany in his sophomore survey of English literature class when his ironic professor Archer Sloane momentarily loses himself in Shakespeare's Sonnet 73 and then asks him what the poem is saying to him over a span of three hundred years, and he can only raise his hands and utter an abortive, "It means," and so unwittingly falls in love with literature, we care for Stoner, so much so that reading his attempt to live for his love against overwhelming odds, including an inimical department chair, a nightmarish graduate student, a self-centered, unloving, and neurotic wife, and, of course, his own surface equanimity, diffidence, and indifference, becomes a page-turning and at times unbearably suspenseful adventure. Indeed, as Professor Sloane tells Stoner when he's trying to decide whether or not to go fight in World War I, "There are wars and defeats and victories of the human race that are not military and that are not recorded in the annals of history," and Stoner's adult life and career are, finally, as heroic as that of any martial epic fantasy hero.
Williams excels at concisely writing historical backgrounds and human relationships, so that though the novel is less than three-hundred pages, it convincingly conveys everything from Stoner's special field (the Latin tradition and Medieval and Renaissance literature), a tense PhD oral preliminary examination (that brought back my own nightmarish memories), and his fraught relationship with his wife (the best Stoner can believe is that they've become "like old friends or exhausted enemies") to the cultural climate of big events like World War I, the Great Depression, and World War II. (This is a quietly anti-war novel: "he saw hatred and suspicion become a kind of madness that swept across the land like a swift plague; he saw young men go again to war [in Korea], marching eagerly to a senseless doom, as if in the echo of a nightmare.")
Williams also writes vivid descriptions, of, for example, people:
"It was the face of a matinee idol. Long and thin and mobile, it was nevertheless strongly featured; his forehead was high and narrow, with heavy veins, and his thick waving hair, the color of ripe wheat, swept back from it in a somewhat theatrical pompadour. He dropped his cigarette on the floor, ground it beneath his sole, and spoke.
'I am Lomax.' He paused; his voice, rich and deep, articulated his words precisely, with a dramatic resonance. 'I hope I have not disrupted your meeting.'"
"He lay on the bed and looked out the single window until the dawn came, until there were no shadows upon the land, until it stretched gray and barren and infinite before him."
And southern evenings:
"The dogwoods . . . were in full bloom, and they trembled like soft clouds, translucent and tenuous, before his gaze. The sweet scent of dying lilac blossoms drenched the air."
Throughout, with irony and affection Williams expresses the hermetic yet vulnerable world of American academia, which, as Stoner's brilliant young graduate student friend puts it early on, is no ivory tower but an asylum or rest home for the infirm, for people who could never succeed in the real world outside.
Robin Field, does a fine reading of the audiobook, though perhaps the quality of his voice is too good at expressing sensitive fatigue.
Williams' novel, then, is anything but bleak and boring. His depiction of Stoner's evolution from an ignorant young man from a sterile farm with spindly chickens, boney cows, and prematurely aged parents into a university literature instructor unable to express in classes or papers what he most profoundly knew and finally into a middle-aged "teacher, which was simply a man to whom his book is true, to whom is given a dignity of art that has little to do with his foolishness or weakness or inadequacy as a man," able to communicate his love of literature, in which "the blackest and coldest print" could express the mystery of the mind and heart, is a quiet triumph. For all he has been saying with passion of mind and flesh throughout his career is, "Look! I am alive."
this book was published in 1965
it sold all of 2,000 copies that year
looking back, we probably shouldn't be surprised
it was later rediscovered by european critics
they had the wisdom to recognize its' true worth
it is a real masterpiece of understated beauty
how does an introverted intellectual live life on his terms ?
how can a man fight the world's pressing him into its' mold ?
how can you recover from betrayal and disappointment ?
the book uses a college professor's career to answer these questions
the steady adversity of midwestern life provides the plot
the book is an extraordinary meditation on an ordinary life
"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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