Book Review: Stoner by John Williams

When I was reading this book I just kept thinking about the thought that comes into my head sometimes, about how I can just tell that my life is not going to amount to anything all that interesting or happy.


When I was reading this book I just kept thinking about the thought that comes into my head sometimes, about how I can just tell that my life is not going to amount to anything all that interesting or happy. This is a thought that comes into my head a lot, involuntarily, even if it is very distorted and dramatic.

About the Book

Title: Stoner

Author: John Williams

Published: 1965

Genre: literary fiction, historical fiction

My Rating: 3.5 stars


The Premise

Synopsis (from Goodreads) (truncated):

“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.”


My Thoughts

If I was tasked with describing the general “vibe” of this book, it makes me think a lot about how when you are a kid you have a whole avenue of possibilities in front of you, but when you get older you start to realize that you’re not actually that special and you don’t truly have all the opportunities you want (because you have already passed so many doors that were previously open and are now shut) and you start seeing that your life is mostly just kinda disappointing.

That’s what this book is basically about. The main character is this *really* boring guy who goes to college originally to study agriculture, but then discovers a passion for literature. But then his life continues to be depressing and disappointing and he fails at everything (his marriage, career, parenting) and it’s very depressing. Finally he gets cancer and dies but before he dies he thinks about how his life sucked, but it’s okay, because it really doesn’t matter that much.

So, is this book about how life will inevitably disappoint you? Or is it about how even someone with a humble life full of perceived failures can be happy? Well I guess it depends on the mood you’re in.

Though I do have a tendency to be a bit of a downer, I’m going to try to end this review on a happier note. It doesn’t matter what life throws at you, because at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter– life is ultimately what you make it.


Have you read Stoner by John Williams? What did you think of it? Feel free to let me know in the comments!

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2 comments on “Book Review: Stoner by John Williams”

  1. Yes, the book was about how life can be boring and disappointing, as you said in your first paragraph. I did find some things of interest though. I thought the quality of the writing was good throughout, but the content shifted in the second half from the outer view of his boring, disappointing life to an inner view of his landscape of feelings. The re-ignited passion carries us from a world view darkened by the absence of emotion to a world view overloaded with heavy emotion — from stark to moving, from an existentialist darkness to a romantic darkness. I thought that was a worthwhile sculpting of the novel’s content, but that dry part should take up the first 20% of the book, not the first 60%.

    Liked by 1 person

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