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The Big Rock Candy Mountain (Peguin Classics) Paperback – July 27, 2010
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The Amazon Book Review
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-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
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.
Top Customer Reviews
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.
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.
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.
As is widely acknowledged, this novel is about the American Dream - the drive for status, wealth, and easy money -- the golden opportunity just beyond the rainbow. Looking at shows like "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" or "The Apprentice," it is easy to see that these beliefs are still alive and well in our popular culture. Stegnar is unambiguous in his condemnation of this mentality. Yet, he expresses his views with compassion and understanding. Stegner describes forces that are integral parts of our heritage and tradition, and he does so in a way that even today should appeal to readers of any political persuasion.