BOOK REVIEW | Stoner by John Williams

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5/5 stars

From the publisher:
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:
Sometimes, immersed in his books, there would come to him the awareness of all that he did not know, of all that he had not read; and the serenity for which he labored was shattered as he realized the little time he had in life to read so much, to learn what he had to know.

The back of the book describes Stoner as a work of “quiet perfection”, and I can’t think of a better description. This book is perfection. It’s pure and simple, there are no bells or whistles here. It’s the story of one man’s life, and the ebbs and flows that are a part of simply being human.

William Stoner is born into a farming family, and eventually goes off to the University of Columbia to take his degree is agricultural studies. During his requisite English course, he discovers his passion for books. With the encouragement of his Professor and mentor, Archer Sloan, Stoner changes his degree to English studies, drastically changing the course of his life. Stoner grows into the scholarly life, eventually becoming an English professor, while working on his own writing. He is married, thought not happily, and has a child. He develops friendships and feuds, suffers losses and enjoys a great love. These are the mundane parts of life, yet Williams has crafted them so compellingly.

It’s hard to articulate what makes this book so beautiful, but it’s a rich telling of an ordinary man’s life. For a stoic man, Stoner always remains true to himself, often following his heart or morals rather than following the path of expectation. If you’re looking for a shocking work of drama, turn the other way. If you would like to examine the human condition and explore the sum of one man’s simple life, this is for you. Williams asks the fundamental question that we all ponder as we move through life, day by day – what makes a life, a life? I couldn’t put this book down, and I finished knowing I had read something truly special.

 

 

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BOOK REVIEW | We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

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5/5 stars

From the publisher:
Merricat Blackwood lives on the family estate with her sister Constance and her Uncle Julian. Not long ago there were seven Blackwoods—until a fatal dose of arsenic found its way into the sugar bowl one terrible night. Acquitted of the murders, Constance has returned home, where Merricat protects her from the curiosity and hostility of the villagers. Their days pass in happy isolation until cousin Charles appears. Only Merricat can see the danger, and she must act swiftly to keep Constance from his grasp.

My thoughts:
I can’t help it when people are frightened; I always want to frighten them more. 

We Have Always Lived in the Castle is my second Shirley Jackson read, the first being The Haunting of Hill House, and I am completely sold. Jackson is an absolute master of atmosphere – her books are creepy, and I mean that as a huge compliment. I felt incredibly uneasy while reading We Have Always Lived in the Castle; I love the slow burning tension and the look into Merricat’s thoughts. Reading this book has made me that much more interested in Jackson herself – she writes about women who are descending into madness, and I have to wonder where that inspiration came from. I may pick up Ruth Franklin’s new biography, Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life to learn more about the woman behind the books.

If you’re looking for an atmospheric and unsettling read for October do not hesitate to pick this up!