Jimmy's Reviews > Stoner

Stoner by John Edward Williams
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's review
Dec 08, 2010

it was amazing
bookshelves: nyrb, male, novel, year-1960s, better-book-titles
Read in October, 2009

** spoiler alert ** UPDATE December 2010:

I just submitted this to Better Book Titles. I hope they accept it.

Original Review October 2009:
This is the most straight-forward linear narrative type of novel I've read in the past year. So at first, I was not impressed. But I soon realized that the novel is impressive precisely because it is able to be so damn linear, the writing style so damn plain, and the characters so damn dull and yet... and yet it manages to make me continue reading on, driven by what I don't know. There is a constant melancholy through the book, but also its points of light.

So that was the first 100 pages or so. Then it gets good. I mean, really good. But I don't know why. Nothing that much changes, it is just events in the life of this guy. But I start to really care about him, or really understand him... or something. Let me just put it out there: this is a depressing novel. It is a devastating novel. It made me cry. But it is not one where horrible thing after horrible thing happens to good people. Many of the things that happen are... yes, horrible, but also very normal... they are more like small dissappointments.

John Williams is able to kill you softly with his immovable patience, his prose which is like the most patient thing in the world, and which builds and builds by inching closer and closer to the precipice. Precisely because he is not flashy. Precisely because he is so restrained in his prose, that you never realize it when you're right on the edge of the cliff and you're like "wait, how did I get here?"

Also: I don't mean to suggest that his prose is boring. His prose is beautiful. But straight forward. And very functional. It is in service to the subject matter. And the fact that it is not flashy 95% of the time makes it all the more devastating the other 5% of the time, when he floors it as in this passage:

"Years later it was to occur to him that in that hour and a half on that December evening of their first extended time together, she told him more about herself than she ever told him again. And when it was over, he felt that they were strangers in a way that he had not thought they would be, and he knew that he was in love." p53

or in this passage:

"It was a passion neither of the mind nor of the flesh; rather, it was a force that comprehended them both, as if they were but the matter of love, its specific substance. To a woman or to a poem, it said simply: Look! I am alive." p 250

I've rambled long enough. Let me just say a few more things, because I'm a bit delirious. The characters. They are complex and blameless. That is part of the devastation. You can't blame them for the decisions they make. Each one, even the ones that make our protagonist's life hell, you can't blame them because the writer makes you understand (slowly) why they are the way they are. What drives each character to drive each other mad. I read on one of these goodreads reviews someone said "It only troubles me that every single thing that Stoner thinks and says and does seems so incredibly right, or at least perfectly understandable, on first reading." That's what I mean. He didn't do anything wrong. Everything he does is understandable. He was just being himself the best way he knew how. And so was every character in this book.
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Comments (showing 1-22 of 22) (22 new)

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Mike Puma This isn't the most popular novel around, but I liked it too. Nice review.

Jenny Zimmerman I also appreciated and agreed with your review. No, there isn't much here but he the story of Stoner's life...but you can't help reading every page of it. So simple yet complex at the same time.

message 3: by Dan (new) - rated it 5 stars

Dan Wilbur I'm gonna finally read this and get back to you on the title!

Jimmy Oh hi Dan! I didn't know you were on Goodreads. I hope you like this book as much as everyone does.

Víctor I totally agree with you!

Marion Husband wonderful review

Holly Spot on.

Malou You said everything I meant to say, but couldn't describe myself in words

Lichenia Green What a great review, my sentiments entirely. Thanks for putting it so clearly.

message 11: by Fionnuala (new) - added it

Fionnuala Jimmy, so much of what you say here I agree with but my conclusion was very different to yours.
And I did find someone to pin blame on: the author!

Barbara Rhine I agree with a lot that you said here, but I didn't like it as much as you did. At times I found the prose as dull as the main character, and skimmed. Still, I believe it added to my understanding of how the American WASP culture of stony indifference is formed.

Munema This review summed up my thoughts so perfectly! Thank you!

Taryn Your first two paragraphs are EXACTLY what I would put in my review. Now I don't have to write one...I defer to yours.

Cecily A perfect review of a wonderful book:

"John Williams is able to kill you softly with his immovable patience, his prose which is like the most patient thing in the world"

Your final paragraph is very true as well. Even Edith. And that's hard.

Bodil You nailed it!!!

Jimmy Thanks Bodil :)

Nuztradamus Like that other lady said, you nailed it dude. Well reviewed.

message 19: by Cat (new) - rated it 4 stars

Cat I just finished this book and read your review, Jimmy! Can I blame the society of the early 1900s if I can't blame the characters? :)

message 20: by Cat (new) - rated it 4 stars

Cat Also, your Better Book Titles was better than the one I found on their site: http://betterbooktitles.com/post/1433...

Jimmy @Cat: yes you can blame anyone you want! :) And wow, I didn't know they had this book on BBT. I agree, my title is better, but I'm bias.

message 22: by Cat (new) - rated it 4 stars

Cat I think all of everyone's problems would have been solved if it had been socially acceptable for that guy to get a divorce. Except for the idiot student.

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