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The powerful lure and tragedy of the American Dream,
This review is from: The Big Rock Candy Mountain (Contemporary American Fiction) (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.