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Angle of Repose (1971)

by Wallace Stegner

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
5,1051681,729 (4.27)519
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. 41
    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. 20
    Plainsong by Kent Haruf (sturlington)
  3. 10
    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.
  4. 00
    A Sudden Country 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.
  5. 00
    The Eighth Day by Thornton Wilder (charlie68)
    charlie68: Similar themes
  6. 11
    How Green Was My Valley by Richard Llewellyn (charlie68)
    charlie68: Similar themes
  7. 00
    Winter Wheat by Mildred Walker (fountainoverflows)
  8. 00
    Penguin Book of the American West by David Lavender (Polaris-)

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» See also 519 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 167 (next | show all)
Oh....it is going to be some time before I get this book out of my head...6 stars if it were possible. ( )
  DarrinLett | Aug 14, 2022 |
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.

( )
  mattorsara | Aug 11, 2022 |
Wow- devastating - the dangers of not going all in with your spouse. ( )
  farrhon | May 19, 2022 |
While I *loved* Crossing to Safety and Beyond the 100th Meridian, have admired Stegner for decades, and have a copy of Angle on my shelf to read, this recent article gives me pause:

Perhaps better to read A Victorian Gentlewoman in the Far West: The Reminiscences of Mary Hallock Foote first.
1 vote | tkilgore | Apr 12, 2022 |
“Fifteen minutes into CATS, I had some doubts, but if you stick with anything long enough it will end.”
—“I Took My 58-Year-Old Dad to See CATS. This is His Review,” Justin Kirkland

This is the book that won a Pulitzer, from the author who was so inspirational to Wendell Berry that he decided to study writing under him in graduate school. Expectations were high and unmet.
Stegner is good at description, especially pinpointing human emotion and expression in the American West in the late 19th century. His plot was cyclical and miserable: the same family, the same marriage, only slight variations on the same questions. Every fifty or hundred pages I found myself paging to the end of the book, asking how many more times we would have to watch Susan Ward face the same questions and answer them by her own miserable failure of character and personality. In choosing to focus on this, and on his present-day narrator who is described and seems to exist only in relation to the women in his life, Stegner forgoes the promise that this book could have offered. If it had been on the family rather than the marriage, it could have been a fascinating look into the reality of failed Western endeavors, into what enterprise and engineering looked like in early Idaho when they did not end in triumph. If Stegner had been a little more open and resourceful and commissioned some of the sketches and watercolors of Susan Ward by a contemporary artist, he could have illuminated his story by an interesting visual corroboration or contradiction to what he wrote.
Stegner’s narrator draws parallels between himself and the grandfather he always looked up to, but what I did get out of this book that I think the author really did intend is a much closer resemblance to his grandmother, full of aspirations and wishes and bitterness and discontent. Both Lyman and Susan Ward blame their spouse for their place in life; both would like to hold themselves to a high moral standing, would like to have everyone’s respect without any real effort on their part: a deeply privileged stance. They see their work as a kind of holy calling, to support the family or preserve history, but in reality their writing and art give them an excuse to be too busy to solve their real problems. Both are dramatically more insufferable than the steady people around them (Oliver, Ada).
If Stegner’s point or theme or whatever was that the people in the West were frequently more of a problem than the physical and geographic challenges of the West itself, he certainly demonstrated that. But surely he could have done it in fewer pages and maybe shown us a little more of the interesting stuff while he was at it. ( )
  et.carole | Jan 21, 2022 |
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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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