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.
"Time goes by, we get older, love changes"
We are all trapped within our culture and the conditioning of those beliefs, most of us are destined not to be famous or recognized for great achievements, we are just people living our lives with all the ups and downs of these conditions. William Stoner is man like us making decisions that affect him and others, loving and not being loved, moving through time and doing his best to understand to discover all the things we all wonder about.
“Dispassionately, reasonably, he contemplated the failure that his life must appear to be. He had wanted friendship and the closeness of friendship that might hold him in the race of mankind; he had had two friends, one of whom had died senselessly before he was known, the other of whom had now withdrawn so distantly into the ranks of the living that...
He had wanted the singleness and the still connective passion of marriage; he had had that, too, and he had not known what to do with it, and it had died. He had wanted love; and he had had love, and had relinquished it, had let it go into the chaos of potentiality. Katherine, he thought. "Katherine."
And he had wanted to be a teacher, and he had become one; yet he knew, he had always known, that for most of his life he had been an indifferent one. He had dreamed of a kind of integrity, of a kind of purity that was entire; he had found compromise and the assaulting diversion of triviality. He had conceived wisdom, and at the end of the long years he had found ignorance. And what else? he thought. What else?
What did you expect? he asked himself.”
― John Williams, Stoner
He looks for purpose like all of us, and so page by page he becomes a universal man defeated and grandiose with in his life a failure and a success, a life that is more than all the sums of its parts,
This is a beautiful meditative book about the life of a man it is not bombastic and it has no obvious twist but a life as life is and that is what makes it remarkable, its gentle exposure of a man's life.
“He had, in odd ways, given it to every moment of his life, and had perhaps given it most fully when he was unaware of his giving. It was a passion neither of the mind nor of the flesh; rather, it was a force that comprehended them both, as if they were but the matter of love, its specific substance. To a woman or to a poem, it said simply: Look! I am alive.”
― John Williams, Stoner
"A revived classic that didn't appeal to me..."
I had heard really good things about Stoner. The book is well written and the reading of it fits the text very well. I actually tried reading the book first but didn't like it and went to audible. It was better but this book is just not for me.
The character Stoner is described in detail and it truly is a really well presented portrait, a memoir of this fictional person. A university teacher who loves English literature but who, even when he experiences happiness, has a dull chugging along type of personality. It isn't just that I dislike the person Stoner, I felt it physically demanding to hour after hour listen to how he doesn't take control over his life and happiness, that he settles in a life that really isn't for him. If it wasn't for the second half of his life (and the book), giving him more of a stringer personality I really would have quit.
I as a reader am perfectly happy with not liking the main character and stories where little to nothing "happens", but Stoner took these two concepts too far for my liking.
I know I go against the current trend for this book, but I really can't recommend it. I would not hesitate to listen to other narrations by Robin Field though.
"Eponymous character passive to an appalling degree"
I chose to buy this audiobook after reading that the novel was a "rediscovered masterpiece", sadly I don't agree. The character of Stoner became so annoying in his passivity I found it impossible to carry on listening to this book. If he had had an ounce of gumption he and IMHO listeners would have had a much better time!
Well written , well read but a miserable story about a life unfulfilled and full of woe.
"After the Dream"
It's been two years since I listened to this. It was the week before an uncharacteristically grey Christmas, John Williams' "Stoner" (1965) the perfect companion.
Full of understated beauty, Williams' work is not, contrary to the first impression, an uneventful meditation but a very tense and thrilling work. While I've had difficulty in adapting to Beckett's sense of stopping, Williams' vision hits home, and hard. His intensely intimate narrative continually fights with the narrative conventions of the hero/antihero, problem and resolution, buildup and climax, exposition. He's at once distant, yet still relentlessly there as Mr Stoner falters through life. Everything seems to return to the beginning, starting over. The sand castle always crumbles into nothingness. There's the dark variety of disappointment, but also a bright, burning sense of injustice that moves forward, feeding from itself. Self-pity, even loathing. Nobody seems to appreciate him, not even he himself. Williams seems to give us no reasons to do so either, but he's not drawing this character conventionally.
Mr Stoner, alone in success and failure, is identifiable because he persists. Williams snatches great moments of catharsis from him, hits the breaks when things start going his way. His great realization is not really even of happiness, but that the universe is not unhinged as it throws him around from an unhappy marriage to doomed love, or from a rising career path to work in the dusty corner for the rest of his life. His contentment, if I may describe it so amid his stout stoicism, is more in the understanding that the universe holds no special grudge against him. He's merely the chaff blown in the wind, here an instant, gone in a flutter.
A hero of the antiheroes? As inappropriate as it may be, journeying with Mr Stoner is like walking alongside the villagers in Béla Tarr's”"Sátántangó" (1994), only devoid of the little pathos they might have had left in the sharp wind. Where this steps away from the path of deceptively self-flagellating masochism is perhaps in how the author makes us feel that we’re there with him, that he’s not alone because of us, and in how the author is able, with Proustian clarity of thought, to give us a glimpse of a truth about ourselves, and others, without succumbing to disdain.
I don't have to find a damp and drizzly November in my soul, to quote a foolhardy sailor, to come this, although it’s not necessarily enjoyment it brings anyway, at least not the usual kind. It's more like seeing yellow birch leaves falling onto the ground, and thinking of the green summer. And sometimes that's the awe-inspiring moment right there, after the dream.
"Dull and overrated."
There is no real plot and frankly one never really cares about the central character. A story does not have to be a bodice ripper or a ripping yarn but it does have to have a point and I didn't feel I got much out of the story or the characters.
"A Work of Art"
it's a beautiful slow melancholy tale of a normal persons life
he's not a charismatic reader but suits the book well
recommended to me by a stranger in a bookshop as the best book she had read thanks for the tip.
A move eventful story, nothing much happened.
No, I found the narration tiresome though fitting to the story.
A perfect book. Just an ordinary life - but beautifully told and beautifully read.
"Indeed a lost classic!"
This was a wonderful, sad, truthful, engaging story of an ordinary man living out his time on earth in the best way he could manage. I've both read the book and listened to the audible version. The story and the characters engaged me thoroughly; however, I was entranced by the story despite the narrators best efforts. Field's rather exhausted voice almost pushed me away from listening. It was well worth my time to listen to this book, although I am glad I began by reading the book as I'm not sure if I'd listened from the start I would have been as engaged by the story.
I liked the quiet truth, the spare but poetic style of writing, the haunting, sad but almost heroic quality of this ordinary academic, caught in the trap of his own life. It was a thrill to uncover a novel and author that I had been previously unaware of.
Unfortunately, I am not a fan of this narrator's interpretation of the book. I felt he read in a flat-footed, exhausted and almost resigned manner. Perhaps the narrator chose to read the story in that way to reflect the oppressive quality of Stoner's life; however, I felt the story merited a voice with a bit more magic. The story rose above the narration in this case.
No follow-up book would be appropriate, given the book's ending. The book as it stands is complete and so well-formed. The ending is quite remarkable as a frank, honest description of the last moments of a man's life. The author begins the book by describing Stoner as a man of no particular merit and thoroughly forgettable. Howver, as the story progresses and as I got to know him more fully, I began to appreciate and see the depth in this most ordinary man.
This story was a quiet revelation. It's sad and tragic tale, but there is a benevolence in the way the author brings to life this ordinary man. I urge anyone looking for a reflective, rather emotionally tough book to listen!
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