Title: Angle of Repose
Author: Wallace Stegner
Genre: Historical fiction
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Source: Print copy from my personal library
First line: Now I believe they will leave me alone.
Goodreads blurb: Wallace Stegner’s Pultizer Prize-winning novel is a story of discovery—personal, historical, and geographical. Confined to a wheelchair, retired historian Lyman Ward sets out to write his grandparents’ remarkable story, chronicling their days spent carving civilization into the surface of America’s western frontier. But his research reveals even more about his own life than he’s willing to admit. What emerges is an enthralling portrait of four generations in the life of an American family.
My faith in this reading challenge has been renewed! After loving January’s pick, My Antonia, the next three months were not fun. Bleak House was just okay, and I just plain disliked As I Lay Dying and The Grapes of Wrath. I have to admit, I was beginning to wonder if this challenge was a bad idea. And then I started Angle of Repose, and I breathed a big sigh of relief.
Stegner can write like nobody’s business. In some ways, he reminds me of one of my all-time favorite authors, Wendell Berry. Stegner based Angle of Repose on the real-life letters of Mary Hallock Foote, even quoting directly from some of her correspondence (with permission). The character in Stegner’s novel is Susan Ward, and her story is being told by her grandson, Lyman Ward, who is confined to a wheelchair and suffers a debilitating disease. He is writing from the year 1970, and the contrast between his grandmother’s life in the second half of the 19th century, and the changing times of the 70s, make a nice frame for the story. Lyman, who values his grandparents’ way of life, struggles to understand the counterculture of the 1970s, and also struggles to connect with his adult son.
I loved the character of Susan Ward. She was one strong woman. Even though she loved her husband, Oliver, he was absolutely the wrong type of man for her – and yet she was determined to make her marriage, and their life in the undeveloped West, a success. Her descriptions of the mining camps, and especially their time in Mexico, are vivid with details that I can still see in my head when I remember those particular passages. I found her commitment to her husband refreshing, especially in comparison to many contemporary novels in which a man or woman will easily abandon a marriage or engage in an affair because of an attraction to another person, rather than remain faithful.
As the book unfolds, we see the parallels between Lyman and his grandfather, Oliver, and, in the end, have some hope that Lyman has taken away an important lesson. The ending was a bit abrupt for me, but that didn’t detract from the overall awe I felt at Stegner’s prose and characters.
Did any of you read along with me? If so, what did you think? Please leave your comments here, or link to your own post, so I can read your thoughts.