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Author of AGAINST A DARKENING SKY, THE EMPTY ROOM, OUR DAILY BREAD, and others. Find out more at www.LaurenBDavis.com. I read as if my sanity depended upon it.. . . oh, wait, it does! Snort.

The Extraordinary Ordinary Life

Stoner - John Edward Williams

STONER is something of a masterpiece.  Here what the back of the book says:


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.


John Williams writes about an ordinary man and his ordinary, often painful life with such unsentimental beauty and compassion as to transform it into the extraordinary.  Carol Shields did the same thing in THE STONE DIARIES, and after reading this I can't help but wonder if STONER wasn't an inspiration for Shields' own wonderful book.  The ending, which is splendid, reminds me of Tolstoy's THE DEATH OF IVAN ILYICH.  


William Stoner's quiet dignity and moral core is something we see very little of in literature any more, and it's a great pity.  We could use more inspiration of this sort.  This is a life lived small.  There is no social media, no reward for self-regard and narcissism.  There is merely doing the right thing, because it is the right thing to do, and trying to cause the least amount of harm possible in the living of a life.


Without a mention of God, it proves to be a deeply spiritual work.