Review: Stoner 50th Anniversary Edition by John Williams

I received an advance review copy of this title from New York Review of Books.

My Review:
Stoner 50thFor those of you that are not new to my blog, you might have noticed that this book has a place in my “favorites” section. In this book we are introduced to William Stoner who is born at the turn of the century into a very poor farm family in rural Missouri.   Stoner would have also become a farmer like his father and when he is given a scholarship to the state university, he fully intends to study agriculture.  But through the influence of a tough but inspiring English professor, Stoner changes his major to English and he himself becomes a University English professor.

One of the aspects that I enjoyed most about the book is Stoner’s contemplation about what it means to be a good teacher. He also doesn’t always play the university politics game and his career suffers for it.  He is forced to teach Freshman English courses over and over again and he does so in a stoic manner without protest.  Whether he is in a graduate seminar class or a beginning Freshman English class he always gives his best teaching to his students.

Stoner meets a charming young woman at the home of his professor and he immediately decides that he wants to marry her.  He courts Edith for about two weeks and they have a modest wedding ceremony at her parent’s house.  But Edith soon reveals her mental instability and Stoner realizes very quickly that his marriage is a miserable failure.   But Stoner never even contemplates leaving Edith and instead he endures a miserable life at home with a wife who is crazy and unpredictable. I was glad to see that at one point in the book, though, he does find real love and intimacy, which I think is what he craves all along.

The prose in this book is exceptionally elegant. This is one of those books that my thoughts keep wandering to over and over. It makes one contemplate so many different ideas: career, family, love, marriage, and even death.  The 50th anniversary edition issued by the New York Review of Boks is a hardcover book with an introduction by John McGahern.  Even if you have already read Stoner on the Kindle or in the original paperback, this beautiful hardcover edition is very special and worth having on one’s bookshelf.

About The Author:
John WilliamsJohn Edward Williams was born on August 29, 1922, in Clarksville, Texas, near the Red River east of Paris, Texas and brought up in Texas. His grandparents were farmers; his stepfather was a janitor in a post office. After flunking out of junior college and holding various positions with newspapers and radio stations in the Southwest, Williams enlisted in the USAAF early in 1942, spending two and a half years as a sergeant in India and Burma. Several years after the war, Williams enrolled in the University of Denver, where he received his B.A. in 1949 and an M.A. in 1950. During this period, his first novel, Nothing But the Night, was published (1948), and his first volume of poems, The Broken Landscape, appeared the following year. In the fall of 1950, Williams went to the University of Missouri, where he taught and received a Ph.D. in 1954. In the fall of 1955, Williams took over the directorship of the creative writing program at the University of Denver, where he taught for more than 30 years. Williams’s second novel, Butcher’s Crossing, was published by Macmillan in 1960, followed by English Renaissance Poetry, an anthology published in 1963 by Doubleday which he edited and for which he wrote the introduction. His second book of poems, The Necessary Lie, appeared in 1965 and was published by Verb Publications. In 1965 he became editor of University of Denver Quarterly (later Denver Quarterly) until 1970. In 1965, Williams’s third novel, Stoner, was published by Viking Press. It has been recently been re-issued by The New York Review of Books. His fourth novel, Augustus, was published by Viking Press in 1973 and won the prestigious National Book Award in 1973 and remains in print.

The critic Morris Dickstein has noted that, while Butcher’s Crossing, Stoner, and Augustus are “strikingly different in subject,” they “show a similar narrative arc: a young man’s initiation, vicious male rivalries, subtler tensions between men and women, fathers and daughters, and finally a bleak sense of disappointment, even futility.” Dickstein called Stoner, in particular, “something rarer than a great novel — it is a perfect novel, so well told and beautifully written, so deeply moving, it takes your breath away.”

After retiring from the University of Denver in 1986, Williams moved with his wife, Nancy, to Fayetteville, Arkansas, where he resided until he died of respiratory failure on March 3, 1994. A fifth novel, The Sleep of Reason, was left unfinished at the time of his death


Filed under Classics, Favorites, New York Review of Books

8 responses to “Review: Stoner 50th Anniversary Edition by John Williams

  1. This looks like a beautiful edition of a brilliant book – I read it earlier this year and really enjoyed it. It would be nice to discover more understated “lost” classics.


  2. Lovely review – ‘elegant’ is the perfect word for Williams’ style! This was a huge word-of-mouth hit here in the UK when it was reissued and deservedly so. I still see it in pleasing piles on bookshop display tables several years later.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Jonathan

    I really liked this book when I read it a while ago but the cover of this edition just looks……well…..crap. Doesn’t it?

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m a fan of this novel as well. I love the way it focuses on the small challenges and struggles in life.


  5. kaggsysbookishramblings

    I have a copy of this but I’ve yet to read it – really must do so!

    Liked by 1 person

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