I like Wallace Stegner, but found this book hard to get into and, frankly, long and a bit tedious (well over 500 pages). It did win the Pulitzer, so clearly I'm in the minority. I prefer "The Big Rock Candy Mountain." Aside from fiction, Stegner wrote extensively about the West.
I suppose it's unfair to withhold half a star because I often wanted to, as another reviewer put it, shake both Oliver and Susan Ward. And their grandson Lyman Ward, the narrator of the framing sections of the book. Still, I began by reading the book slowly, savoring it for its many perfections and felicities of language. Then I got impatient and wanted to know "how it all turns out" and stayed up way too late one night to finish it. Fortunately, I soon found a used copy to buy. I plan to reread it, slowly, savoring the whole thing, to see if I can figure out how Stegner pulls off this magic. Susan, Oliver, Lyman, and the other main characters and so many walk-ons are so clearly drawn. He has a way of making complex, imperfect people compelling. He also shows how they change. Susan, for instance, writes letters to her friend Augusta in NYC, whom she doesn't see for years. To her she pours out her heart about her joys and sorrows. While she tells Augusta how much she hates the West, how much she holds her self above it, she is changing slowly into a Westerner. She's not the same kind of Westerner as her husband Oliver, and that's part of their tragedy. But she's become a true Westerner. Lyman, who knew them both when he was a child, is aware of that, and sees it in her writing. A truly beautiful book.
Stegner has totally annotated my life with his books. I go back through them and re-read my favorite quotes because he can sum up complex feelings beautifully - feelings I couldn't bumble out in any kind of coherent way. This is my fav book of his. His portraits of life are masterful. An american author that doesn't get his due.
One of those books to be read slowly and savored. Stegner is a master.
Stegner won a Pulitzer Prize in 1972 for his novel about a retired historian who researches and writes about his pioneer grandparents and the American West. A slow moving story that seamlessly weaves the past and the present as the professor confronts his own history and failed marriage. A book to be slowly savored, from one of America’s finest novelists.
Kind of boring
It has been a while since a book has made me tear up; but, this one did. One of the better novels that I have read. Well worth it.
A really interesting portrait of life in the early years of the American West. Susan and Oliver are interesting characters with diverse, complex motives. Sometimes you want to give one or other of them a shake and say Smarten up, but you know it's how they are, and they are not going to change. (Much like real people I know.) The contemporary historian looking at their lives adds another element, as he shares some of the patterns of their lives, and perhaps learns from them in dealing with his own troubling relationships. (Though it's a bit odd to look back on a conservative 1971 view of the social changes taking place in the USA of the 1960s and '70s.) Very engrossing and illuminating.
This is one of my all-time favorite books read about 30 years ago!
Spectacular, beautifully written story of redemption, forgiveness, and learning from your ancestor's mistakes. Very moving, I would recommend this book to anyone.
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