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Stoner (1965)

by John Williams

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
4,6392721,680 (4.29)1 / 315
William Stoner is born at the end of the nineteenth century into a dirt-poor Missouri farming family. Sent to a university to study agronomy, he instead falls in love with English literature and embraces a scholar's life. As the years pass, Stoner encounters a series 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. William Stoner emerges not only as an archetypal American but as an unlikely existential hero, standing in stark relief against an unforgiving world.… (more)
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  3. 30
    The Professor's House by Willa Cather (shaunie, Petroglyph)
    Petroglyph: Both "Stoner" and "The professor's house" deal with a small-town university professor vaguely comfortable with his family life, who fits uneasily in a new life that sorta kinda happened to him while he was focusing on his work. Both present compelling immersions in bittersweet nostalgia and the ever-present sense that life could have gone entirely different (and perhaps it should have).… (more)
  4. 20
    Mr. Bridge by Evan S. Connell (agmlll)
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    The Magnificent Ambersons by Booth Tarkington (potenza)
    potenza: Comparable tone / period / moral messaging.
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    Canada by Richard Ford (shaunie)
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    The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro (SCPeterson)
    SCPeterson: Melancholy main characters whose devotion to duty is met with disappointment and lack of fulfillment in life and love
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    Larry's Party by Carol Shields (GCPLreader)
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    The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford [2007 film] by Andrew Dominik (potenza)
    potenza: Comparable profound but spare tone.

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English (208)  Dutch (23)  Italian (12)  Spanish (6)  Catalan (5)  German (5)  French (3)  Swedish (2)  Danish (2)  Norwegian (1)  Hebrew (1)  Finnish (1)  Portuguese (Brazil) (1)  Piratical (1)  Hungarian (1)  All languages (272)
Showing 1-5 of 208 (next | show all)
Err, wow? The clarity of the prose and characterization here is awe-inspiring; after reading a lot of genre fiction recently this reminds me of the heights that literature can reach. Read this bad boy asap. ( )
  arewenotben | Jul 31, 2020 |
One of the loveliest books I've ever read. Quietly heartbreaking. ( )
  jasbathehutt | Jul 30, 2020 |
I'd like to read this book from the perspective of Stoner's wife, Edith. I found that Williams' portrayal of Edith dismisses her character's depth, depicting her as the 'crazy woman' without taking thoughtful effort to confront her described trauma as what it was: trauma. For instance, I feel quite confident that her childhood neglect and experience of spousal rape early in her marriage made her feel - among many things - unsafe in her home, no doubt influencing her relationship with her quiet, sexually violent husband and later her own daughter. Williams merely passes off her depression as crazy, her fear and anger as hysterical, and her manipulation to remove her daughter from Stoner's life as evil. ( )
1 vote EmmaMarta | Jul 8, 2020 |
Deeply in earnest
flawed man tries, but always fails
books make it worthwhile. ( )
  Eggpants | Jun 25, 2020 |
John Williams' Stoner chronicles a life that most would write off as mediocre. William Stoner is born to subsistence farmers in Missouri, and when he grows up, his parents send him to college to learn about agriculture. Stoner is a decent but unspectacular student until he takes a required English course and he's seized by the love of learning. He abandons his original plan to return home for the academic life, continuing his education and becoming a professor. Along the way he marries Edith, a lovely young woman who turns out to not be a very good wife, they have a daughter, and Stoner gets caught up in academic politics. He writes and publishes one book, and dies without much more in the way of accomplishments.

It's a "small" life: Stoner never really leaves Colombia once he gets there, and never rises to any sort of prominence. He opts out of World War I, his book never makes any waves, his marriage is a disaster (not only do they never love one another, she frequently goes out of her way to spite him and destroy any small measure of contentment he feels), his adored daughter is turned against him and grows up to become an alcoholic, and he permanently alienates the head of his department (preventing any sort of advancement) when he refuses to give his approval to allow a clever but shallow student to progress towards a doctorate. He has one short period of true happiness, an affair with a graduate student, but it doesn't last. He dies in pain, separated from those he loves.

It sounds like a massive downer. It should be a massive downer. But Williams' writing, particularly his characterization of Stoner, creates a portrait that's melancholic but in a way that's poignant rather than outright sad. Stoner has the stoicism that one might expect from a boy born to taciturn farmers...when you grow up expecting to eke a living out of the soil from which your parents struggled to do the same, you don't expect greatness or wild happiness from life. Fundamentally decent and essentially passive, Stoner accepts most of what his life brings with grace. Even his biggest fight, his determination to fail the unworthy student, is more of a refusal to back down from doing what he genuinely believes he should do than an active campaign against the student in question. Stoner is a very rare example of a literary protagonist who is almost entirely reactive rather than proactive.

It's Williams' beautiful characterization of Stoner that makes the novel's one significant flaw (for me, anyways, you might have more) so glaring: Edith is so one-dimensionally villainous. She's given some sympathy at the beginning, when she's no more prepared for the realities of marriage than her young husband. But she gradually progresses to be a vindictive antagonist without any real indication given as to why. When every other character is rendered with emotional honesty, it stands out that Edith is not, and as she is the most significant female character in the book, it's troubling. But not nearly enough to outweigh the merits of Stoner as a whole: it's deftly and elegantly told, in prose that's resonant without ever being flowery, and gives dignity to a kind of person and life that's usually brushed aside without much thought. I really loved this book, and completely understand why it's been rediscovered and celebrated as of late. I'd recommend it to anyone. ( )
  GabbyHM | Jun 24, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 208 (next | show all)
Part of “Stoner” ’s greatness is that it sees life whole and as it is, without delusion yet without despair. Stoner realizes at the last that he found what he sought at the university not in books but in his love and study of them, not in some obscure scholarly Grail but in its pursuit. His life has not been squandered in mediocrity and obscurity; his undistinguished career has not been mulish labor but an act of devotion. He has been a priest of literature, and given himself as fully as he could to the thing he loved. The book’s conclusion, such as it is—I don’t know whether to call it a consolation or a warning—is that there is nothing better in this life. The line, “It hardly mattered to him that the book was forgotten and served no use; and the question of its worth at any time seemed almost trivial,” is like the novel’s own epitaph. Its last image is of the book falling from lifeless fingers into silence.
added by SnootyBaronet | editNew Yorker, Tim Kreider (Oct 20, 2013)

» Add other authors (27 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Williams, Johnprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Krol, EdzardTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
McGahern, JohnIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rekiaro, IlkkaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Robben, BernhardTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rodell, MarieContributorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Torrescasana, AlbertTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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This book is dedicated to my friends and former colleagues in the Department of English at the University of Missouri. They will recognize at once that it is a work of fiction--that no character portrayed in it is based upon any person, living or dead, and that no event has its counterpart in the reality we knew at the University of Missouri. They will also realize that I have taken certain liberties, both physical and historical, with the University of Missouri, so that in effect it, too, is a fictional place.
First words
William Stoner entered the University of Missouri as a freshman in the year 1910, at the age of nineteen.
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.
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Average: (4.29)
1 9
1.5 4
2 38
2.5 10
3 105
3.5 71
4 472
4.5 164
5 611

NYRB Classics

2 editions of this book were published by NYRB Classics.

Editions: 1590171993, 1590173937

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