Stoner by John Williams

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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.

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Rating: 5 out of 5.

Stoner by John Williams

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What in insightful, telling, and refreshing read! Those looking for a contemplative, calm read with sensible outlook on life will probably enjoy this one. A great one for book club pick.

I read this one for SunBeamsJess Book Club.

The Story
Not overly complicated. The redemption arch so carefully orchestrated. Vacillates between hope and despair both thought out and lived out in such a way that feels alive as the main character moves from skeptical, cautious, dreaming to asserting, accepting, true, and deserving.

Highlights include the dynamic of husbandry, parenting, academia, friendships. Explores each dynamic of relationships as separate and unique.

Touches on philosophical and psychological grounding of Erickson’s states of development, keying into coming of age, adulthood, through end of life.

Many sorts of grief, hardship, inner turmoil, disappointment, and loss.

Such as husband not validated in what he is looking for, looking externally, wife in much the same changing outwardly so it could be experienced internally. Feeling desperate, alone, not thriving in this lonely marriage.

Social and political realms of prohibition, WWI, women’s idea of liberating and dark side of feminism. It was interesting to go back in time of conservative and progressive thinking and lifestyle as they were defined and portrayed at the time. Incredibly different than schools of thought of today.

Speaks to feminine movement of the time. His wife’s life even lived out reflective of that, in a way she was detached from her own existence as evidenced and exacerbated by lack of maternal-child bonding, limitations of personal satisfaction, happiness, and personal growth, manifestations likely deeper inner workings and pathology.

Seeking peace, happiness, life satisfaction, and joy.

I loved the oral exams scenes.

The Writing
So beautifully written. Rich symbolism in the book with rich imagery. The voice comes out so strong and confirming, even in the most subtlest of ways.

This beautiful connection between thought, emotion of character and scene, sometimes foretelling, sometimes reflective, overt and hidden, all very picturesque.

I like the prose in how it zoomed out and zoomed back in as appropriate to keep the story moving forward, propelling at paces that needed either more time or more space.

Own references of writing process in his characters and speaking to the state of literature of the time from rigidity to creativity, reflected as we move along in the book, whether tamed, or out of discipline, this character begging to come out.

Characters
As enhanced by the writing, there is so much to be taken away from the descriptions of body, time, and place as emotions run high, as emotions run quiet, as maturity grows, as weakness, timidity, control, and strength are depicted. What’s captured really well is this reasoning provided in and out of thought and action, circumstances with these subtleties that the main character alludes to, foreshadowing or mirroring his life as it is or should be or as he desires it to be. Often confirmed in the outcome at various points, really leading the way to make strong connection and statement.

Loved it.

View all my reviews

Sonnet 73

“That time of year thou mayst in me behold 

When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang 

Upon those boughs which shake against the cold, 

Bare ruin’d choirs where late the sweet birds sang. 

In me thou see’st the twilight of such day 

As after sunset fadeth in the west; 

Which by and by black night doth take away, 

Death’s second self, that seals up all in rest. 

In me thou see’st the glowing of such fire, 

That on the ashes of his youth doth lie, 

As the death-bed whereon it must expire, 

Consumed with that which it was nourished by. 

This thou perceivest, which makes thy love more strong, 

To love that well which thou must leave ere long.”

~William Shakespeare

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