Stoner by John Williams



William Stoner is born at the end of the nineteenth 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, so 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.


Stoner was my book club read for this month. I am glad it was as based on the synopsis I never would have pick this book up to read. It just didn't strike me as something that I would enjoy as much as I did. Really I was hooked from the first pages. The style of writing reminded me of Theodore Dreiser whom I loved when I was in high school. This makes me think I should go back and re-read his books now.

A lot of the people in my book club saw Stoner as a depressing book. I didn't really see it that way. Sure for me Stoner's life would be terrible, but he never really seemed to mind. He was happy with the way things were and just went along with whatever came along. Really from the beginning he was just this guy who coasted and did what people told him. He grew up on a farm and planned on working there until his parents told him to go to school. So off he went. Once there he took some literature classes because he had to at first and then because he enjoyed it. Once Sloane, his advisor, told him he needed to fill out a form to change his major as he was going to be a teacher that is what he did. He just kind of goes along with things as they happen and then he sticks with it until someone tells him to do something different. I think his first real decision was when he had to decide if he would go off to war or not. His friends told him he would go with them to enlist, but Sloane won't tell him if he should or not (and really gives some reasons why he might not and their consequences). That was the first time he really had to make up his own mind about something.

He ends up getting married to this horrid woman, but he doesn't seem to care too much. He is a teacher and eventually a good teacher and things are going fine for him. There is some drama with his teaching in the middle with a student who is an impostor and that students advisor who then has it out for Stoner, but fortunately he cannot do that much to him. Through it all Stoner just goes with everything that happens and never really fights that hard for anything, except for the student to be kicked out of the literature program. Really he tried and tries to give the student the benefit of the doubt, but he just wouldn't help himself and eventually made Stoner too angry. That was pretty much the only time Stoner is passionate about anything besides teaching.

There are a lot of downs in this book and not that many ups. Stoners wife has some mental issues and she gets really bad by the end. There are a lot of really sad moments, but Stoner just goes with it. He is just happy being a teacher and doesn't care that much about anything else.I just really enjoyed this story. The author tells you on the first pages this guy is nothing special. Some people vaguely remember him now that he is dead, but he is not anybody that people will talk about for years to come. He is a nobody and this is his life. Really a great read. I loved how it was written and Stoner was happy enough with his life so it worked.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★1/2

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