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Publisher's Summary

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.
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Critic Reviews

“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)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

By Mark J. Lura on 07-12-11

A fascinating book

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.

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34 of 34 people found this review helpful


By Amazon Customer on 06-23-10

A masterpiece

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.

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78 of 80 people found this review helpful

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Customer Reviews

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By Crocker on 07-30-13

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 .

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9 of 9 people found this review helpful


By steven on 01-04-14

Slow and frugal writing

Finally a book that deserves each of its five stars. Written in 1965 and forgotten for 40 years this book was recently voted Book of the Year, and it is easy to see why. It is a very simple tale of a simple man – an academic who comes from a very modest background and achieves virtually nothing in his lifetime. He watches as his life happens to him and watches as it slips past. He is mild mannered and polite but fails to take a stand on any issue or on any relationship in his life. He has the opportunity on several occasions: an ethical choice which he gets right but executes badly; and a love choice which he lets slip.

The world happens to him, his life is thrust upon him and with a barely detectable shrug he accepts it and moves on.

The sum of the plot is revealed on the first page of the first chapter. It is not for intrigue that one should read the book but for the writing. In style this is somewhere between John Steinbeck and William Faulkner and Franz Kafka. It is slow, measured and carefully descriptive – perfectly in keeping with each tentative thought of William Stoner. Some of JM Coetzee’s early work is similar.

Reading the biography of the author one wonders how autobiographical the story is – two novels published in a lifetime, one receives some acclaim and then evaporates from view for 40 years.

I strongly recommend it, not for reading while lying on the beach – stick to a thriller. But when you are in a contemplative mood and thinking about what to make of 2014 and beyond this would be perfect material.

The narrator's reedy monotone is absolutely perfect for the story - his characterisation is spot on.

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8 of 8 people found this review helpful

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