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Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner
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Angle of Repose (original 1971; edition 2014)

by Wallace Stegner (Author)

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4,2981491,637 (4.26)451
Member:Meredifay
Title:Angle of Repose
Authors:Wallace Stegner (Author)
Info:Vintage (2014), Edition: Reprint, 672 pages
Collections:Your library
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Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner (1971)

  1. 10
    A Victorian Gentlewoman in the Far West: The Reminiscences of Mary Hallock Foote by Mary Hallock Foote (Cecrow)
    Cecrow: The novel Angle of Repose is based on the life of Mary Hallock Foote.
  2. 00
    How Green Was My Valley by Richard Llewellyn (charlie68)
    charlie68: Similar themes
  3. 00
    The Eighth Day: A Novel by Thornton Wilder (charlie68)
    charlie68: Similar themes
  4. 11
    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.
  5. 00
    Winter Wheat by Mildred Walker (fountainoverflows)
  6. 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.
  7. 00
    Penguin Book of the American West by David Lavender (Polaris-)
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» See also 451 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 149 (next | show all)
Lyman Ward, the 58 year-old former history professor who narrates Angle of Repose, is writing a biography of his paternal grandparents, Susan Burling Ward and Oliver Ward. Crippled and abandoned by his own wife, Lyman has returned to the ranch where he grew up in northern California to sift through the letters and documents left by his grandparents in an effort to reconcile some things he does not understand about their marriage. Along the way, he discovers that Susan and Oliver had something less than a perfect union: She reluctantly followed him all over the western United States in the late 1800s for his career and never really forgave him for his professional failures or for becoming estranged from her best friends in East Coast society. Although her work as a writer and illustrator provided the only steady income they have, when tragedy strikes the family about 15 years into their marriage, Susan is to blame and she spends the next several decades serving out her emotional penance.

That may not seem like the outline for a feel-good reading experience. Indeed, light and breezy this novel certainly is not. What it is, though, is a tender and compassionate look inside a marriage in which neither party is either fully right or fully wrong, but both are responsible for their consistent unhappiness with one another. Beyond that, celebrated author Wallace Stegner has captured scenes of the American West (and Mexico too) with a lyrical quality that rivals the best of those composed by contemporaries such as Larry McMurtry, Ivan Doig, or Norman Maclean. Angle of Repose is also a considerable piece of historical fiction in that the character of Susan Burling Ward is based largely on the life of Mary Hallock Foote, whose prose and drawings captured day-to-day life in the mining camps of 19th-century America. In fact, the similarities between Burling Ward and Foote were so close that Stegner continues to be criticized to this day for copying verbatim the text of the latter’s letters to her best friend in New York throughout the novel.

I liked this book, but I am a little surprised that I did not love reading it. Given its reputation as a classic of modern literature, perhaps I was expecting something closer to a timeless, transcendent experience than what I found. While I did admire the scope and depth of the author’s writing, I found two particular storylines to be off-putting. The first involved Susan, who I suspect was supposed to be a sympathetic character but came across as passive-aggressive (even for the time), unsupportive, and, ultimately, unfaithful. Second, almost everything about Lyman’s present-day tale felt terribly dated; set in the late 1960s, the thoughts and attitudes portrayed in that part of the narrative are by now from an era seemingly as distant for most readers as the 1880s. So, while I will happily concede this novel’s lofty status in the literary pantheon, it is not one that I can actually recommend without at least some qualifications. ( )
  browner56 | Sep 2, 2018 |
A great read! A commentary on modern life as well as a commentary on life a hundred and fifty years ago, insightful on both accounts. ( )
  charlie68 | Aug 28, 2018 |
It’s been years since I first read this beautiful, sweeping, tender novel, but it’s lost none of its power. It’s such a sensitive portrait of marriage, and the lasting damage done when we betray the trust of those closest to us. At the same time, it portrays the building of the American West in epic terms. What a book. ( )
  jalbacutler | Aug 4, 2018 |
Staggering. Riveting. Perceptive. Penetrating. Wallace Stegner knows how to get inside a marriage and pull at it and prod at it, until it settles down into what it cannot help becoming and finds its angle of repose. This story is the saddest kind of story possible, because it is about the loss of opportunity, the loss of happiness, and the loss of what might have been. It wrenches and tears and tatters the reader. I was gasping from the injustice, the cross-purposes, the lack of communication and the sorrow of characters wanting the wrong things.

Stegner’s prose is poetry. His descriptions are revealing in a way that cuts to the heart of both his external and his internal subject matter. He grabbed me by the throat early on and I was hooked in almost the first paragraph:

I believe in time, as they did, and in the life chronological rather than in the life existential. We live in time and through it, we build our huts in its ruins, or used to, and we cannot afford all these abandonings.

As he plumbs the life of his grandparents, Lyman Ward plumbs the depths of what it is to live connected and disconnected from those around us. What it is to love a life, a friend, a man or woman, a place, a child and an idea; and what it is to betray the trust of others or your own needs and desires. This book is packed with combustible materials, that spark and hiss and finally fly apart in a deafening explosion of emotional release.

Each of the main characters is fleshy and real. Lyman, who might initially seem pitiable in his handicapped condition, proves to be strong and intelligent. Susan and Oliver are, if anything, too strong and independent for their own good. They are the sterner stuff that the West was forged from, but they maintain their sensibilities and weaknesses--the flaws that make them all too human.

I have been married for 35 years to a man I both love and respect. At times it has been amazingly easy to be married, at times it has been equally difficult, and there have been moments of “what if” and “I might have” for both of us. It is unrealistic to think that any one person can or should live his life in a measured sync with you. Marriage is work, with compromise and obstacles, and if you throw in the difficulties of life in the late 1800s and settling the West, understandably challenging. If you have ever packed up and left your home for parts unknown (and I have), you can recognize how well Stegner understands the pain of lost family, lost worlds and lost dreams.

When reviewing a book like this one, I have almost uncontrollable desires to “talk” about it. I want to delve into the specifics, reflect on all the lessons to be learned, revel and roll in the astute revelations that the author has shared. At the same time, I want to allow others to read and enjoy it as I have without a single spoiler to be had anywhere. So, I will not say anything more about what this book is “about”, except to say it is about us, whomever we are, because it is about what it is to be human and vulnerable and to succeed and to fail and to endure.

I hope everyone reads it and enjoys it as I have. I am so glad to have come to Wallace Stegner at last and feel a bit put out that he has been waiting for me for over forty years. Thank you, Mr. Stegner for your gift and forgive me for being so late in accepting it.

( )
3 vote phantomswife | Jul 6, 2018 |
A very character-driven portrait of late 19th Century Western US expansion. If you're looking for fast-paced and plot-driven, this is not the book for you. Being a history nerd who loves to get intimately acquainted with characters, I found myself finishing the book and thinking I might be able to Google the characters and find out even more about them. Slow-paced and borderline dull at times, it's all worth it in the end. ( )
  Shansky | May 19, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 149 (next | show all)
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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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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 014016930X, Paperback)

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.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:25:23 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

Stegner's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel is the story of four generations in the life of an American family. A wheelchair-bound retired historian embarks on a monumental quest: to come to know his grandparents, now long dead. The unfolding drama of the story of the American West sets the tone for Stegner's masterpiece. Four generations in the life of an American family are chronicled as retired historian Lyman Ward, confined to a wheelchair, decides to write his grandparent's history. The Pulitzer Prize-winning classic has been selected by the board of the Modern Library as one of the best hundred novels of the 20th century.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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