Stoner

stoner cover image Stoner

by John Williams
General Fiction
NYRB Classics
Paperback, 288 pages
$14.95

There are two very interesting questions about this book. Why is this American novel – one of the best of the 20th Century – virtually unknown in its own country? And, why is it a runaway bestseller in Europe almost 50 years after its publication? A week or so ago a young Danish couple came in and asked for Stoner. They were astonished we didn’t have it and, in fact, that we didn’t know of it. “It is wildly popular in Denmark," they said.  Needless to say it was in our next delivery and soon on our bedside table. And what a book it is! Morris Dickstein of the New York Times wrote in 2007 that Stoner, “is something rarer than a great novel — it is a perfect novel."  C.P. Snow said of it in 1973 that, “very few novels in English…have come anywhere near its level for human wisdom or as a work of art.” The story is the life of the fictional William Stoner (1891-1956). He was a dirt-poor farmer’s son who became a life-long professor of literature at the University of Missouri. Beautifully written, profoundly moving, sad and painful! It is, perhaps, the story of all of our lives. Spoiler alert: skip the Introduction.