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Showing 1-10 of 72 reviews(Verified Purchases). See all 110 reviews
on May 19, 2017
I hesitate to write much since I am incapable of conveying how deeply this tragically intricate novel moved me. I mostly tend to read American and German literature from the first half of the 20th century. If that strikes a chord with you, I think, like me, you’ll love this book as I did, from the first word to the last.

Stegner’s tale is an American saga, not about gods and heroes but, much like Hamsun’s Growth of the Soil and Laxness’s Independent People, about common folk who pioneer and struggle to make something out of nothing in a brutal, hostile world. Much like those novels, this story provides deep insight about how collective individualities build national character and identity. I am reminded of the classic Doonesbury cartoon when Mike embarks on a motorcycle tour of the country as Zonker asks him to “Call me when you find America.” Reading this epic would have been a good starting point for that journey.

Set in the first third of the 20th century, we follow the Mason family at they struggle to prosper and consistently fail to set roots of stability. Bo Mason drives and draws along his wife and two sons through sporadic, momentary cycles of booms and prolonged and brutal busts. Their nomadic journey takes us throughout the West during historical episodes that include frontier settlement, the Klondike gold rush, the Spanish flu of 1918, prohibition, and the advent of legal gambling.

The beauty and depth of Stegner’s descriptive writing is all-consuming and overwhelming. You can feel the musty grit of the North Dakota winds; you can smell meadow flowers of a lazy Montana summer day; you can feel Bo’s car struggle through an vicious blizzard; you can hear the guns go off to celebrate the end of World War I; you can smell the stench of a rotting horse carcass; you can see the dust floating in the sunbeam coming into a stuffy room; everything is a visceral experience. Most importantly, these characters are as completely human and real as any about whom I’ve ever read.

Bo Mason “was a man who was born disliking the present and believing in the future.” His compelling drive to search for and find that mythical Big Rock Candy Mountain of contentment is constantly stymied by his violent frustrations, bluster, fears, insecurities, and dreams. Elsa Norgaard Mason is the force of stability, a loving mother of two boys who might well be one of the most sympathetic characters in American literature, whose “qualities…would get you saintliness, but never greatness.” And we see her boys Chet and Bruce grow up from infancy to childhood, constantly straining to wish them a good, happy life.
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on March 21, 2015
I can't get enough of Wallace Stegner. This book is what all writers should aspire to be like. I have now read three of his books, Angle of Repose, The Big Rock Candy Mountain and Crossing to Safety. I can't say there's much action but there is so much heart and soul. While reading The Big Rock Candy Mountain in my bedroom I came down and was talking to my husband about the book and crying. Crying for the lost chance this couple had to love and respect each other and how happy I am that my marriage is nothing like this. Wallace Stegner shows the beauty of the world and people and the hardness of both. It's always up to us how we view and act in our world.
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on September 30, 2012
This book is a classic. It is one of the best descriptions of a certain sort of American character that I have ever read. Stegner's Big Rock Candy Mountain is, like most of his work, a bit dense, prose-wise. It's a tough start, but repays effort after the first couple of chapters. He is very insightful about a particular type of American character, which he depicts at some length in the novel's protagonist, Bo Mason. Stegner's slightly heavy handed moralizing about this American type -- always looking for a fast buck, or the main chance, while a bit impervious to the genuine niceties of bourgeois life -- is pretty apt for our time, after the fast money of the past two decades.
In addition to depicting the kinds of thinking and action of a man like Bo, Stegner does a brilliant job of showing us the effects his behavior has on the more sensitive, less impulsive people whose lives are interwoven with his. His wife is pretty game, but ends up with little or none of what she wanted in life. His slick older son makes mistakes, and ends up dead early. Only his very smart, overly sensitive son (the Stegner character), manages to remove himself from the world in which the father's actions make some kind of sense, and get himself on a different path through life.
The book is memorable and brilliant. It should be require reading -- in college, perhaps. Too sophisticated for high school.
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on November 23, 2015
Like other books I've read from this master storyteller, this one is thoroughly enjoyable. His ability to create complex characters and trace their lives is truly incredible, at least in my opinion. There is simply never a point in this and his other works when you don't have a clear mental visual image of what is occurring and an emotional connection to the characters. A wonderful book.
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on March 17, 2013
An early effort by the much awarded and touted Stegner, the book is a sweeping saga covering an important period of the American story: 1900 to the 1930's, the end of the frontier and beginning of modern, urbanizing society. The love story of Elsa and Bo takes the reader from Minnesota to the Dakota territory to Canada to Reno and Lake Tahoe to Salt Lake City and more. The Masons and their two sons, one athletic and masculine and one introspective and academic give us the full range of human emotions, morality and immorality. Bo's slightly shady and outright illegal dealings with pool halls, hotels, liquor selling and running during prohibition, homesteading and farming, mining and prospecting, banking and more show us a man striving to reach the American Dream but always falling short: a violent often raging man yet one of great warmth. Elsa's undying loyalty and fierce love of Bo and her boys show us a loving and truly good woman typical of an earlier age in America. The two sons show us the effects of both heredity and environment. Stegner's ability to nail the emotions, inner workings and dialogue of each of his very different characters lets the reader know, understand and"become" each one. His descriptions of nature both benign and deadly are often breathtaking. It's a very readable and enjoyable book yet, it sometimes is too sweeping in scope and too full of supporting characters and sideline events. Reading Stegner's later works shows a maturing writer who is better able to focus on the essentials of setting, character and plot. Yet, this is a very good story and a very good read.
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on January 4, 2017
If you like John Steinbeck, you'll love Big Rock Candy Mountain. The characters are very believable, and made more real by their humanity. Relatable to anyone who has ever dared to dream, has ever loved and hated the same person and ever wondered why them?, where from?, and how - did they ever come to be who they've become? Powerfully written and not easily forgotten, by a long shot.
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on June 22, 2016
A great book about a willful man who makes questionable life choices and how his family makes their own difficult choices in his strong wake. It doesn't take much to get involved with the story, and Stegner takes his time with each of the main characters' personalities. The underlying heroine here is the mother, and her journey away from her stoic, oppressive father to her oppressive, abusive husband. I think many women would appreciate Stegner's treatment of her choices.
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on April 3, 2015
Have you ever eaten a dessert that is so rich you could only have a little bit at a time? Stegner is a master of descriptive writing and character development. Each person, in turn, tells their story from their perspective and it requires concentration to absorb the words. The characters are all deeply flawed and their lives a constant struggle. As well written as it is, and that's undeniable, I ended up not liking any of the characters. This is a flaw in me but I have to have at least one person I relate to admire or empathize with. That's why I only gave it four stars.
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Wallace Stegner was the writer's writer. This book is dense, plodding, brooding, and in many ways, a vast deep trip into the minds of male children and adults. It is an excellent example of the master plot, A hero takes a journey. It is not necessarily a negative thing for the plot to be predictable, though, because I was looking at the "dimensionality" of the characters. The bravest was Elsa. Some of the scenes described in the book are so vividly given that I found myself gasping. Now that is great writing. Don't compare it to Angle of Repose. Savor it on its own.
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on June 3, 2011
Have heard of the "Big Rock Candy Mountain" song, but never realized there was a book until I saw a reissue at an airport bookstore. Downloaded on my Kindle and thoroughly enjoyed the story. I have always been a Steinbeck fan, and Stenger's novel reminded me of Steinbeck. Great character development and beautiful prose. Amazing how Stenger's story still holds true today for those still seeking the American dream and how families hold together through life despite their dysfunciton, tragedy, and illnesses. Will add this to my list of favorites along with the Grapes of Wrath, and am looking forward to reading more of Stenger's novels.

Was disappointed in the full price Kindle download, they need to work on their editing before publishing the Kindle editions of these books. It appeared the printed novel had been scanned directly to Kindle format, as there were many typos, misspellings, and stray punctuation and symbols throughout the book. Was constantly coming across periods where the sentence didn't stop...woudn't have bothered me if it were one or two errors here and there, but errors were quite frequent, every few pages or so. It is a rare occasion that a printed book (even a cheap paperback) has any typos due to diligent editing. Kindle versions should be held to the same standards.
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