Thursday, July 11, 2013

Stoner by John Williams (not the "composer")

I'm posting a few older reviews that used to be on Goodreads...trying to fill out my virtual bookshelves a little. With a complete lack of humility, I'll tell you that my staff review has made it tough to keep this book in stock at work. I'm even accumulating a bit of a book review following, though a coworker says that they're all "old dudes with mustaches."  She's not wrong, which does seem a bit odd.  I wonder how many of my mustachioed followers have read any of the Jane Austen I've suggested.  At any rate, here's a brief plot synopsis since my review gives you none...and no, it's not about a pothead.

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.

I should also tell you that this will be my number one read of 2013. I am 100% certain that nothing else will come remotely close. My review below...


Give me a moment to dry my eyes. I'm still shedding a tear or two today after finishing this book in the wee hours of this morning. I can't say much beyond what's already been said. So I will describe my experience with it.

About half-way through this book I was exhausted. Partly from turning the pages so quickly, but mostly from the unendurable sadness that is William Stoner's life (though even in my exhaustion, I was entranced). And then I realized that while quiet and melancholy, and with its fair share of villains, Stoner's life isn't sad at all.

It's just life.

And then the book opened up to me, or maybe I opened up to it, and I fell in love. I fell in love with William Stoner and his quiet university life. I fell in love with his sweet-tempered, lifelong friend, and even with his scheming enemies. I fell in love with the succession of events that made up this one man's ordinary life, and I fell in love with the way that life moved me.

I can't really explain what it is about this book. Yes; it's well written, filled with living, breathing characters; and perfectly paced. But it's more than that... and I don't have the talent to impress upon you just how beautiful it is. Read the blurbs, and other more eloquent reviewers. More importantly, read the book.