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Angle of Repose (1971)

by Wallace Stegner

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
4,6991591,688 (4.27)488
Wallace Stegner's uniquely American classic centers on Lyman Ward, a noted historian, who relates a fictionalized biography of his pioneer grandparents at a time when he has become estranged from his own family. Through a combination of research, memory, and exaggeration, Ward voices ideas concerning the relationship between history and the present, art and life, parents and children, husbands and wives. Like other great quests in literature, Lyman Ward's investigation leads him deep into the dark shadows of his own life.… (more)
  1. 31
    Gilead by Marilynne Robinson (quartzite)
    quartzite: The books both feature an elderly narrator looking back at family dynamics in the past and using those reminiscences to frame their own story. They also share beautiful use of language.
  2. 10
    Plainsong by Kent Haruf (sturlington)
  3. 00
    The Eighth Day by Thornton Wilder (charlie68)
    charlie68: Similar themes
  4. 11
    Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry (sturlington)
  5. 11
    How Green Was My Valley by Richard Llewellyn (charlie68)
    charlie68: Similar themes
  6. 00
    A Victorian Gentlewoman in the Far West by Mary Hallock Foote (Cecrow)
    Cecrow: The novel Angle of Repose is based on the life of Mary Hallock Foote.
  7. 00
    Winter Wheat by Mildred Walker (fountainoverflows)
  8. 00
    A Sudden Country: A Novel by Karen Fisher (amelielyle)
    amelielyle: Both are novels of the American West. Both are the story of intelligent women constrained by the role of 19th century wife and mother. Part of the pathos of each story is the dissolution of those marriages. Lyrical and image-provoking writing style.
  9. 00
    Penguin Book of the American West by David Lavender (Polaris-)

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» See also 488 mentions

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Wallace Stegner is one of my favorite authors. I fell in love with his writing and storytelling when I first read [b:The Spectator Bird|11045|The Spectator Bird|Wallace Stegner|https://i.gr-assets.com/images/S/compressed.photo.goodreads.com/books/1385095780l/11045._SY75_.jpg|949595] and was amazed when I found I enjoyed a much longer novel, [b:The Big Rock Candy Mountain|10801|The Big Rock Candy Mountain|Wallace Stegner|https://i.gr-assets.com/images/S/compressed.photo.goodreads.com/books/1389231736l/10801._SY75_.jpg|1105171], every bit as much. So it is fair to say that I have anticipated reading [b:Angle of Repose|292408|Angle of Repose|Wallace Stegner|https://i.gr-assets.com/images/S/compressed.photo.goodreads.com/books/1329151576l/292408._SY75_.jpg|283706] as much as anything else and more than most. Of course, with that much anticipation you would almost expect some level of disappointment. There was none. The novel is majestic. As I worked my way into it, I felt no desire to rush the experience. I wanted to savor it. If I was tired, I put it aside willingly as I did not want to miss out on any of the experience. Ultimately, though, I did not enjoy it as much as the other two novels. The characters were just as rich in detail and layered in complexity. The story was simple, and yet worthy of every one of the 531 pages. I liked and respected Oliver Ward, and I respected and admired Susan Burling Ward, but I never felt as close to them, as if they were breathing the same air I breath, as I did with the other two novels. The story did not pull me along with the urgency that I might hope for. I thought the structure of the novel was wonderfully designed and beautifully executed. I very much appreciate when an author uses a structure that blends with and enhances the story; Wallace Stegner does that very well here.

It is an incredible story, well told, that I will be thinking about for a long time. ( )
  afkendrick | Oct 24, 2020 |
I read Angle of Repose. Stegner is a completely new author for me. I loved the prose in this novel. His writing is highly evocative: I grew up in Arizona and there were pieces of the novel where he would describe the great expanses of the North American West that made me feel like I was back there with the landscape developing before my eyes.

In terms of the novel itself, I thought it was ok. The prose was really the highlight. I don't know if it's because of all the upheaval of 2020, but something about Lyman's storytelling rubbed me the wrong way in places. I'm not really in a headspace to appreciate a tale about a man discovering, due to his old age and physical pain, that women are also people with complex inner lives and small heroic acts. Perhaps another time I would have liked it more. I did enjoy reading the historical accounts and read in the foreword that many of the letters Stegner used were authentic. (He did change names, but she was a real person!) ( )
  sparemethecensor | Sep 19, 2020 |
This is a work of art. The writing is splendid, the characters compelling, and the background of the untamed American West, seen through the eyes East Coast civility, as rough as it is magnificent. Stegner offers the reader no glamorous tale of cowboys or lode-finders. Rather, he delivers a perfectly conceived story of honest people in search of the American dream and the harsh reality of shattered dreams in Western mines and canyons. This is a metaphor of American expansion and a five-star read. It made me want to go back through all of my other ratings of threes and fours here on Goodreads and lower them in comparison. Highly recommended. ( )
1 vote MMKY | Jul 3, 2020 |
A remarkable and satisfying novel that I have come to very late and only came across after finding by chance in our local community centre. Lyman Ward is in a wheelchair and is a retired history academic. He is living in his grandparents house and is using their papers to write the story of the first years of their marriage as pioneers in America's west. He bring to life unfamiliar landscapes of mining towns and canyons surrounded by sage bush. His grandmother is a sophisticated woman from the east coast, grandfather is an engineer and from the beginning their life is full of tension but also love. Wallace Stegner chronicles Lyman Ward's own life as he tumbles downward and the lives of his grandparents in parallel. Along the way in what is mostly a family saga, he brings in generational tensions in the late 1960s, when the novel was written, and the complexities of engineering in those pioneering days of the 19th century. A hefty novel that never felt too long. ( )
1 vote Tifi | Jun 4, 2020 |
When it was published in 1970, Wallace Stegner's “Angle of Repose” must have seemed like a contemporary novel and a historical novel wrapped into one, with hippies and miniskirts on one page and pioneers and corsets on another. Fifty years later it reads like a historical novel all the way through.

Lyman Ward is a historian still in his 50s, but because of an amputated leg and otherwise declining health he is retired from teaching. His wife has left him for the surgeon who cut off his leg, and now he is in the care of a neighbor woman, once a childhood playmate, who feeds him and bathes him. This woman's daughter, Shelly, full of hippie ideals and attitudes, comes over each day to help him organize his current writing project, a book about his grandmother, Susan Ward.

Lyman can't decide whether his book should be a biography or a novel. Stegner's novel takes the form of Lyman's recorded narrative, including both the details of his own life and that of his grandmother, as revealed in letters and other documents. But these papers cannot reveal the whole story. Sometimes they only hint at it. Many details, such as conversations, are omitted altogether, and Lyman must use his imagination to fill in the blanks.

Susan is a gifted writer and artist who views Eastern intellectual circles as her Eden. Then she falls in love with Oliver Ward, a mining engineer who is also from the East but whose career takes him West, where the mines are. Reluctantly she follows her husband, always dreaming of returning East and to her dear friends there. Her snobbishness prevents her from forming friendships with anyone in the pioneer towns where Oliver's job takes him.

It doesn't help that Oliver, for all his talent, finds success difficult to achieve. He is much too trusting of others, who then take advantage of him. He fails to patent his inventions, allowing others to make fortunes from them. Susan often supports their growing family herself with her writings and illustrations, much in demand back East. This further deflates Oliver's self-esteem.

Then there is Frank, a young man from the East who, unlike Oliver, can talk with Susan intelligently about books and other subjects that interest her. Frank makes clear his love for Susan. She tries to discourage him, but not in a way that actually discourages him. Her nos sound too much like maybes.

Finally Lyman reaches a point in his grandmother's story where he can't go on. The couple briefly separates after a family tragedy. When they reunite, they remain emotionally distant for the remainder of their long lives. They seem distant even in Lyman's own memories of them. So what happened? Was Susan unfaithful to her husband or not? He cannot decide. His feelings about his grandmother become confused with his feelings about his own wife, and he doesn't know what to do about either woman.

Stegner's it-was-only-a-dream ending spoils an otherwise classic novel. This may have worked for Dorothy, whose dream was in color and much more interesting than Kansas, but it seems cheap and easy here. Surely Stegner could have done better. ( )
  hardlyhardy | Apr 29, 2020 |
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For my son, Page
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Now I believe they will leave me alone.
When frontier historians theorize about the uprooted, the lawless, the purseless, and the socially cut-off who settled the West, they are not talking about people like my grandmother. So much that was cherished and loved, women like her had to give up; and the more they gave it up, the more they carried it helplessly with them. It was a process like ionization: what was subtracted from one pole was added to the other. For that sort of pioneer, the West was not a new country being created, but an old one being reproduced...
...the “angle of repose,” which means the angle at which dirt and pebbles stop rolling.
What interests me in all these papers is not Susan Burling Ward the novelist and illustrator, and not Oliver Ward the engineer, and not the West they spent their lives in. What really interests me is how two such unlike particles clung together, and under what strains, rolling downhill into their future until they reached the angle of repose where I knew them. That’s where the interest is. That's where the meaning will be if I find any.
Remember the one who wanted to know where you learned to handle so casually a technical term like “angle of repose”. I suppose you replied, “By living with an engineer,” but you were too alert to the figurative possibilities of words not to see the phrase as descriptive of human as well as detrital rest. As you said, it was too good for mere dirt; you tried to apply it to your own wandering and uneasy life. ... I wonder if you ever reached it. There was a time up there in Idaho when everything was wrong; your husband's career, your marriage, your sense of yourself, your confidence, all came unglued together. Did you come down out of that into some restful 30 degree angle and live happily ever after? … We shared this house all the years of my childhood, and a good many summers afterward. Was the quiet I always felt in you really repose?
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Wallace Stegner's uniquely American classic centers on Lyman Ward, a noted historian, who relates a fictionalized biography of his pioneer grandparents at a time when he has become estranged from his own family. Through a combination of research, memory, and exaggeration, Ward voices ideas concerning the relationship between history and the present, art and life, parents and children, husbands and wives. Like other great quests in literature, Lyman Ward's investigation leads him deep into the dark shadows of his own life.

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