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Stoner by John Williams

Stoner (original 1965; edition 1965)

by John Williams, Edzard Krol

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
3,2072021,733 (4.26)1 / 282
Authors:John Williams
Other authors:Edzard Krol
Info:Amsterdam Lebowski 2012
Collections:Your library, Favorites, 2012
Tags:Amerikaanse fictie, Engels, VS, midwest, integriteit, 1965, historische roman, gebaseerd op ware feiten, fictie, biografie, G2012, HLNF, M/

Work details

Stoner by John Edward Williams (1965)

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    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)
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Showing 1-5 of 149 (next | show all)
A kind of American Everyman tale of minor triumphs and disasters and how the disasters can ripple to affect succeeding generations. Gloom laden but somehow gripping as you can't help but side with Stoner and his stoicism as he tries to get through a life so much blighted by things he has limited control over. Best deathbed scene (not that I can recall many others). ( )
  Lord_Boris | Feb 21, 2017 |

For the hardworking men and women living in the open, windswept farm country of the American Midwest during the late 19th and early 20th century, day-to-day existence was frequently harsh an occasionally downright hostile, a stark, demanding life chiseling character as can be seen above in artist Grant Wood’s American Gothic. If you take a good look at this painting and then envision a son, an only child, working the fields alongside his father, you will have a clear image of the starting point of Stoner, John Williams’ classic novel of quiet perfection.

The novel follows the life of William Stoner from his boyhood on a Missouri farm though his years as a faculty member of the English Department at the University of Missouri. William Stoner is a good man, a man of integrity, a man, as we eventually find out through his relationship with a fellow faculty member, Katherine Driscoll, capable of profound intimacy and tenderness of heart. William Stoner is also a lover of literature, an accomplished scholar and a dedicated teacher.

But all is not well in the life of Professor Stoner, particularly in his home life. As a beginning instructor right out of graduate school, he marries a woman barely twenty years of age from St. Louis, the daughter of a banker, a young woman by the name of Edith Elaine Bostwick. Turns out, young Edith is what we term nowadays as emotionally abused. And right from the start of her marriage, Edith inflicts emotional abuse on her husband Stoner and eventually on their daughter Grace. Personally, I found reading those parts of the novel involving Edith particularly wrenching bordering on painful.

Indeed, as readers we live through the pain of Stoner dealing with Edith’s wall of emotional frigidness and coldness, which includes being relegated as a husband in his late twenties to sleeping on the parlor coach at night. Through all the years of isolation and alienation, including Edith’s wedging a wall of separation between Stoner and Grace, there is one particularly poignant scene where we read, “Once, while Edith was upstairs, William and his daughter passed each other in the living room. Grace smiled shyly at him, and involuntarily he knelt on the floor and embraced her. He felt her body stiffen, and he saw her face go bewildered and afraid. He raised himself gently away from her, said something inconsequential, and retreated to his study.” For a child to become bewildered and afraid when a parent expresses such tenderness and affection speaks volumes to the level of emotional abuse at home.

Rather than dwelling on the grimness of Stoner’s family life, I will conclude with a one final observation: Grace gives birth to a baby boy but after one brief visit did not return to the home of her parents with her son since, as Stoner realizes on his own and Grace tells him in so many words at one point during her whiskey drinking (and, yes, a grim fact: she has turned to alcohol), she got pregnant in the first place to escape from the prison of his mother’s presence. Well, my goodness – as readers we have a good idea what it would mean for a sensitive man like William Stoner to be deprived of a relationship with his grandson.

Turning to Stoner’s professional life, there are serious cracks within the halls of academe. He is a man of integrity and honesty and the political infighting within academic departments is famous for being vicious and nasty. I wouldn’t want to say any more so as to spoil for a reader, but I can assure you Dr. Stoner is on the receiving end of a large dose of viciousness.

But through it all, our main character remains strong. One memorable paragraph from the novel: “But William Stoner knew of the world in a way that few of his younger colleagues could understand. Deep in him, beneath his memory, was the knowledge of hardship and hunger and endurance and pain. Though he seldom thought of his early years on the Booneville farm, there was always near his consciousness the blood knowledge of his inheritance, given him by forefathers whose lives were obscure and hard and stoical and whose common ethic was to present to an oppressive world faces that were expressionless and hard and bleak.”

Incidentally, when I was a 12 year old boy I joined me father, mother and sister as we took a trip in our car from the New Jersey shore across the American Midwestern heartland of farms to pay a visit to my grandmother. On the way out and also in my grandmother’s town, I heard a number of harrowing tales of farm life, especially for the children of farmers. I reflected on those tales of physical hardship and unending toil when I wrote this surreal micro-fiction a number of years ago:


Before he leaves the city they tell him how the country doctor drives a buggy made from the flesh and bones of his former patients.

“Nothing goes to waste,” is the way they put it when he finally arrives, “we’re all farmers around here.”

He joins the doctor on his first visit to a farmhouse to attend a sick woman. Instead of a thermometer, the doctor sticks his middle finger under the woman’s tongue and says, “I’ve done this enough times to know when someone has a fever.”

He looks over the doctor’s shoulder out the farmhouse window. Beyond a skeleton tied to a pole, he sees the farmer plowing his field using his younger son harnessed as a beast of burden.

“Doesn’t that take superhuman strength?” he asks the doctor.

The doctor answers, “His older son wasn’t quite as strong, but still makes a fine scarecrow.”

American author John William (1922-1994) ( )
  GlennRussell | Feb 16, 2017 |
Realism. A life. A book so well written that, even though it's about a fairly common life spanning over 60 years, one reads with much interest. ( )
  jack2410 | Feb 2, 2017 |
Every once in a while a novel really captures my imagination. This is one of those novels and in this novel, nothing happens. Nothing. Through this nothing I was gripped from the beginning, anxious with anticipation for everything that “happens” next.

Before we get too far, just so there are no illusions, Stoner: A Novel is not a stoner novel.

William Stoner has some rather curious undercurrent-connection with Bartelby, the Scrivener -- it’s like Stoner is channeling ole Bartels-boy. If you asked me to develop that thought I could only reply, “I would prefer not to.” Meanwhile the novel is set in the early to mid part of the last century, Stoner is a farm boy whose passive parents send him off to agriculture college intending that he can learn how to better run the family farm. Through what might be Stoner’s only act of active participation in life, he changes his major to literature. Even this act doesn’t seem of his own doing; passivity reigns. Stoner doesn’t tell his parents he changed his major until some four years later, the day he graduates. As the novel develops, Stoner inexplicably -- literally -- ends up a teaching professor at his alma mater.

What is amazing about this novel is that very little happens through any action on the part of the protagonist. The author’s skill and artful writing is revealed thematically using words like “beige,” “endure,” and “impersonal.” Somehow characters and storyline are compelling. And meanwhile nothing extraordinary continues to happen as characters figuratively sleep their way through life. There are a couple notable villains, but adding to the theme, how or why the villains choose to be villainous is somehow fascinating and confounding.

Throughout, in spaces surrounding storyline and character development, the prose delivers rich contemplations. Several passages beg to be reread immediately while the basic act of reading feels unparalleled. Compelling, somehow, the novel unfolds through a bland act of nothing special. Reading Stoner left me an appreciation of the characters, the story, and especially the author’s light touch and devotion to craft. ( )
  bikesandbooks | Jan 29, 2017 |
the best book I've read in a long time. Superbly well written. As other reviewers have mentioned, not the most uplifting novel you will find. But I personally don't see that as a negative, and it takes nothing away from the high quality of writing. ( )
  JWoodruff | Jan 22, 2017 |
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» Add other authors (21 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Williams, John Edwardprimary 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.
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William Stoner entered the University of Missouri as a freshman in the year 1910, at the age of nineteen.
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"Born the child of a poor farmer in Missouri, William Stoner is urged by his parents to study new agriculture techniques at the state university. Digging instead into the texts of Milton and Shakespeare, Stoner falls under the spell of the unexpected pleasures of English literature, and decides to make it his life. Stoner is the story of that life" -- publisher description (January 2007).… (more)

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NYRB Classics

2 editions of this book were published by NYRB Classics.

Editions: 1590171993, 1590173937

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