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One of Wallace Stegner's greatest peeves as a Western writer was the myth of the West that was promulgated in the bulk of the books about the region. The vast majority of Western novels and movies tended to perpetuate utter myths about the West, instead of grappling with the West itself. Perhaps no American writer knew the West as well as Stegner, not excepting his student Edward Abbey. An inveterate hiker and explorer, he camped or walked nearly every area in the West. He wrote innumerable books about the West and took time to visit every spot he wrote about. For instance, in writing of John Wesley Powell's trip down the Colorado, he retraced his route to gain the greatest possible grasp of what he saw. He traveled the trails that the Mormons and others took in relocating to the West. He was one of the few people to hike along Glen Canyon before Lake Powell consumed it. Moreover, he was raised in the West, spending his childhood on what remained on the frontier. Given all this, I find it utterly astonishing that a couple of reviewers should have the impression that he does not know whereof he wrote. For instance, one reviewer wrote, "Bottom line: the West has a geography, and its denizens a temperament, that demands that we write and read about it in a way that does justice to the hard realities of life in a barren place." Why he would imagine that Stegner, who was intimately familiar with the geography, was one of its denizens, and knew first hand the hard realities of the place by spending his childhood in a variety of barren places, utterly baffles me. I suspect that it is because the book writes about the REAL West and not the West of the Imagination.Read more ›
Angle of Repose is a commentary on marriage, what makes it work and what makes it fail. A severely disabled (wheelchair bound) professor, whose marriage has failed, researches and writes the saga of his pioneer grandparents, a couple whose marriage lasted in spite of tremendous adversity and tragedy. The professor's attendant, the woman who bathes and dresses him, gets him up each morning and to bed each night, also has a failed marriage. Stegner won the Pulitzer for Angle of Repose; even a casual reading of the first half of the book tells you why. It's a big, long, lush, slowly progressing story that weaves the distant past with the near past with the present beautifully and seamlessly. Superb. Read this one and savor it. Don't rush yourself.
Wallace Stegner's Angle of Repose is simply a wonderful novel--a serious piece of fiction about a marriage and marriage itself. Lyman Ward, a fifty-something professor whose own marriage has disintegrated has returned to his childhood home to write of the marriage of his grandparents, perhaps to determine why their marriage lasted through tremendous adversity when his own could not. His grandparents, Susan and Oliver Ward met in New York the 1870s, where she was a promising illustrator and he an engineer. They marry and travel West, living in various places, California, Idaho. Susan feels that she never quite fits into this "uncivilized" place, expressing her unsettleness beautifully in her letters to her good friend Augusta, who lives the life in New York that perhaps Susan felt she was destined to live. Lyman is fascinated with his grandmother, telling her story as he discovers how it unfolds through reading these Augusta letters, adding what he remembers from his own childhood. Lyman suffers from a degenerative bone disease and must rely on young Shelly Rasmussen to help him construct this book on his grandmother. Shelly has just escaped a failed "marriage" of her own. Lyman tells the story of his grandmother while also telling us both his and Shelly's stories seamlessly. Stegner's writing is beautiful and evocative. Angle of Repose is a big, beautiful, unique novel. Stegner's method of weaving the stories together works marvelously and so many of his sentences are simply perfect. Susan Ward's life(and Lyman's and Shelly's) is the believable story of a flawed human being--it's not picture perfect--there are no rosy endings for us here. However, the novel is very satisfying. Highly recommended.
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Wallace Stegner's _Angle of Repose_ (1971) is undoubtedly a rich novel, but it is a challenging book. Many reviewers have commented on the slow pacing, so it is advisable to take up this book braced with patience and energy in reserve. The book must be as much mined and dug through as read pleasurably. The novel, however, bestows a rich ore, which makes the task of finishing it a reward and genuine pleasure.
The book is set in Grass Valley, California, during the spring and summer months of 1970. The novel's protagonist, Lyman Ward, is a 58 year old disabled, physically ailing professor of history who is retired and has taken up residence in his long deceased grandparents' old home, Zodiac Cottage. Despite ill-health, Lyman Ward undertakes to write a biographical novel focusing on his grandparents' lives, Susan Burling Ward and Oliver Ward, from 1868 to 1891. Susan Burling, Lyman's grandmother, was a prolific writer, sketch-artist, and genteel young woman from Milton, New York. Her husband and Lyman's grandfather, Oliver Ward, was a bright mining engineer whose career took his family to California, Colorado, Mexico, Idaho, and back to California.
The grandparents' marriage is a tension of opposites: the talented Eastern sophisticated woman who thrives on high culture and the arts has married a reserved Western explorer and adventurer. Each has entirely different expectations, and the novel explores whether these differences are reconcilable. The title of the novel, "Angle of Repose," refers, at least in part, to this tension as does the metaphor of the keystone(discussed near the end of the book).Read more ›
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