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.
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.
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.
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...
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.
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.
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.
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.
I don’t know how I had never heard of this novel before (it was written in the 1960s and had experienced wide acclaim). Seemingly about nothing but the most mundane of lives, it is in fact a rich and textured exploration of the inner world with all of its existential angst and disappointments. It is a beautifully paced and precise piece of writing that will leave lovers of wonderful writing in awe of the observational power of authors like Williams.
It takes a little time to become immersed in the character of Stoner and his life tale but once ‘locked in’ it is a hard book to stop listening to. The narrator was perfectly suited to the pace and the tone of this lyrical and melancholic novel. I know it will not be for everyone but I think it ranks as one of the best I have listened to.
"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 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 .
This novel was a revelation: as quiet a book as i have ever read, it reduced me to tears several times and admiration throughout.
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