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.
The critic Morris Dickstein has said that John Williams’s Stoner “is something much rarer than a great novel—it is a perfect novel,” and in the last decade this austere and deeply moving tale of a Midwestern college professor has been embraced by readers all over the world. Here, to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of Stoner, NYRB Classics offers a special hardback edition of the book that also includes a previously unpublished correspondence between John Williams and his agent about its writing and publication.
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.
About the Author
John McGahern (1934-2006) was one of the most acclaimed Irish writers of his generation. His work, including six novels and four collections of short stories, often centered on the Irish predicament, both political and temperamental. Amongst Women, his best-known book, was shortlisted for the Booker Prize and made into a popular miniseries. His last book, the memoir All Will Be Well, was published shortly before his death.
Published by the New York Review of Books, 2019. Hardback, 336 pages.