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The Big Rock Candy Mountain (Peguin Classics) Paperback – July 27, 2010

4.4 out of 5 stars 90 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"An irreplaceable classic . . . One of the great books from which we may understand America and its rise . . . It has not aged, and it seems unlikely that, as long as memory and history preserve the bringing forth of modern life on this continent, it will ever lose relevance."
-Robert Stone, from the Introduction

"Stegner has felt the spell of mountain and prairie, of drought, flood, and blizzard. . . . A harrowing saga."
-The New York Times

"Stands out beautifully and unforgettably."
-The New Yorker

About the Author

Wallace Stegner was born in 1909 in Lake Mills, Iowa. The son of Scandinavian immigrants, he traveled with his parents and brother all over the West-to North Dakota, Washington, Saskatchewan, Montana, and Wyoming-before settling in Salt Lake City in 1921. Many of the landscapes he encountered in his peripatetic youth figure largely in his work, as do characters based on his stern father and athletic, outgoing brother. Stegner received most of his education in Utah, graduating from the University in 1930. He furthered his education at the University of Iowa, where he received a master's and a doctoral degree. He married Mary Stuart Page in 1934, and for the next decade the couple followed Wallace's teaching career-to the University of Wisconsin, Harvard, and eventually to Stanford University, where he founded the creative writing program, and where he was to remain until his retirement in 1971. A number of his creative writing students have become some of today's most well respected writers, including Wendell Berry, Thomas McGuane, Raymond Carver, Edward Abbey, Robert Stone, and Larry McMurty.

Throughout his career and after, Stegner's literary output was tremendous. His first novel, Remembering Laughter, was published in 1937. By the time of his death in 1993 he had published some two dozen works of fiction, history, biography, and essays. Among his many literary prizes are the Pulitzer Prize for Angle of Repose (1971) and the National Book Award for The Spectator Bird (1976). His collection of essays, Where the Bluebird Sings to the Lemonade Springs (1992), was nominated for the National Book Critics Circle award.

Although his fiction deals with many universal themes, Stegner is primarily recognized as a writer of the American West. Much of his literature deals with debunking myths of the West as a romantic country of heroes on horseback, and his passion for the terrain and its inhabitants have earned him the title 'The Dean of Western Letters'. He was one of the few true Men of Letters in this generation. An historian, essayist, short story writer and novelist, as well as a leading environmental writer. Although always connected in people's minds with the West, he had a long association with New England. Many short stories and one of his most successful novels, Crossing to Safety, are set in Vermont, where he had a summer home for many years. Another novel, The Spectator Bird, takes place in Denmark.

An early environmentalist, he actively championed the region's preservation and was instrumental-with his now-famous 'Wilderness Letter'-in the passage of the 1964 Wilderness Act. Honest and straightforward, educated yet unpretentious, cantankerous yet compassionate, Wallace Stegner was an enormous presence in the American literary landscape, a man who wrote and lived with ferocity, energy, and integrity.

Robert Stone (introducer) is the National Book Award–winning author of the novels A Hall of Mirrors, Outerbridge Reach, and Dog Soldiers, among others. He lives with his wife in New York City.

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Product Details

  • Series: Peguin Classics
  • Paperback: 656 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; Revised edition (July 27, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0143105787
  • ISBN-13: 978-0143105787
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 1.4 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (90 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #56,675 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Wallace Stegner wrote "The Big Rock Candy Mountain" relatively early in his career (1943, at age 34), and the book reflects the author's enormous talents, which were still developing at that time. Stegner tells the tale of Bo Mason, who leads a rootless life on the fringes of the law. Mason is a bootlegger, gambler and precious metals speculator. Each peak he achieves is higher than his last, and each valley is deeper. This is true both financially and in his relationship with his wife, Elsa, and two sons, Chet and Bruce. Some reviewers point out that the story is somewhat autobiographical. That's probably a safe assumption. But it's also the story of the American West a century ago, where raw optimism, the struggle for acceptance, and harsh realities shaped people's existence.

The harsh reality of "The Big Rock Candy Mountain" is that it isn't one of Stegner's best works. Of course, that's a very high standard. Readers will understandably have great expectations when diving into this book, and some may be disappointed. For example, the younger son's seething hatred towards his father is introduced early in the book and is central to the conclusion, but is poorly developed in the interim chapters. Likewise, the voice of the book drifts between the 3rd person and the 2nd person. This gives the reader a voyeuristic glimpse into each character's personal thoughts. It's a nice gimmick, but awkwardly executed.

On an absolute scale, this book is a no-brainer 5 stars. But relative to other Stegner novels, "The Big Rock Candy Mountain" has some minor flaws. Read it and you'll certainly enjoy it. But you'll appreciate even more the experience of reading the early efforts of one of America's greatest 20th century writers.
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Format: Paperback
Wallace Stegner is different than most famous American writers, eschewing colorful literary activities like drug use, wife-swapping, and gross public displays of antisocial behavior. After a most difficult childhood, which is essentially chronicled in The Big Rock Candy Mountain, he married and stayed married, and received appointments to the faculties of prestigious universities.
Yet Stegner's childhood, on the harsh plains of Saskatchewan, in the timber camps of the Northwest, and as the son of a bootlegger, marked Stegner as the survivor of a headlong and foolhardy quest after the American dream. That dream, and the belief that it could easily be found in the Plains and mountains of the North American West is abstracted in the mind of Bo Mason, the literary doppelganger for Stegner's father, as the Big Rock Candy Mountain.

Much of Stegner's work focused on the choices we make in life, and the effect those choices have on our loved ones. In many ways, his urge towards moderation in personal affairs mirrored his burgeoning interest in conservation, and both were born of his childhood, where he saw precious commodities like love and timber misused and wasted.

The Big Rock Candy Mountain captures the drive, much lost in recent years, towards the frontiers of our existence. The frontier myth--and after reading Stegner's work you'll realize it is to a certain extent a myth--is perhaps the single defining attribute of what it means to be American. Stegner realizes this, and he realizes what can happen to our reality when the quest for a dream is taken too far.
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Format: Paperback
I read Wallace Stegner's "Angle of Repose" and liked it very much, so I decided to try this one, his first major novel. I enjoyed this book even more than the later, Pulitzer Prize winning work. "The Big Rock Candy Mountain" is a more straightforward narrative than "Angle of Repose." It is obviously a memoir of Stegner's own childhood, along with extensive material based loosely on his parents' lives.

Stegner's descriptions of life in the upper western plains during the first two decades of the twentieth century read with an amazing freshness and clarity. The scenes of childhood and family life around the time of the First World War leave unforgettable impressions. The details are lively and crystal clear.

Stegner structures his novel with a sure knack for keeping the reader's interest. He has an instinct for creating tension within discrete episodes, which are well paced throughout the book. You live through blizzards, droughts, an epidemic, and even a car chase with bootleggers. There are also beautiful descriptions of the west and plenty of psychological and ethical dilemmas to ponder.

In some ways this book reminded me of the Nebraska novels of Willa Cather and the works of John Steinbeck. However, the characters in "The Big Rock Candy Mountain" don't always show the nobility of Cather's pioneers; nor are they primarily victims of natural and economic disasters like the Joad family in "The Grapes of Wrath." The people in Stegner's novel make decisions, often tragic ones, and live out the their responsibilities for those decisions not only as they affect themselves, but also as they impact on those around them.
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