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All the Little Live Things by Wallace…

All the Little Live Things (1967)

by Wallace Stegner

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Wallace Stegner is one of my favorite authors, and this book just solidified that. It's beautifully written, the story is mesmerizing, for me. Stegner writes about people and everyday life so quietly stunningly that the reader is unaware of getting enmeshed in the story. Joe Allston and his wife, Ruth, retired to a small rural town in California after the death of their only child, a son -- an unruly young man who defies his educated parents in every way. The couple seeks peace.

Along comes Jim Peck on a motorcycle, seeking to "camp" in the bottom land of Allston's property. After Allston reluctantly agrees, Peck soon builds a tree house, complete with a rickety bridge that draws up into the tree, a shed, installs a mailbox, and commences to invite free-thinking young friends who trash the land. The cult existence of this lot of young people, includes alcohol, drugs, sex, and more and lures in two young local teenagers.

A neighbor of the Allstons is bent on development and begins bulldozing a nearby hill.

A younger couple with a small daughter and a baby on the way move in across from Allstons and the two families become close friends. The fragile wife, Marion beguiles Joe, and his wife as well, with her intelligence and sunny outlook, different from his own.

On the surface, it seems a companionable quiet life away from the city fray. Read the book to learn all the events that happen to this enclave of diverse people. If you haven't had the pleasure of reading Stegner and you enjoy literary fiction, I highly recommend this book. ( )
  Rascalstar | Jan 21, 2017 |
Written in 1967, All the Little Live Things was a sequel of sorts to Spectator Bird, where 1st person narrator, Joe Allston, reflects on the events of the last half year. This is a beautifully written novel,especially the descriptions of nature and the California fauna. the Allstons, Joe and Ruth moved out here as a sort of getaway, after losing their son Curtis. Joe felt he could spend out his remaining years detached and seeking solace in the pleasures of gardening and keeping the house in order. But life creeps in, first in the form of a a philosophical hippie who wants to camp on his property and then in the form of Marian, a young, pretty mother whose smile quickly captures Joe's heart. He and Ruth become fast friends with Marian and John and their daughter Debby. However there is an undercurrent of tragedy that is a part of life and this lesson helps Joe, in the end , realize certain truths. ( )
  novelcommentary | May 16, 2016 |
This is a wonderful book. It's written with great care for all protagonists. A retired couple is living now in California. They bought quite a big piece of land where there new house was built. This story tells the living together with the neighbours whom are people like everybody knows. Each family has their struggle be it due to parenthood, money, self-discovery, cancer or finding peace with their past.
Stegner leads us through their lives with a lot of emotions, wonderful pictures of fauna and flora and as a reader I felt like being amongst them. ( )
  Ameise1 | Jun 9, 2015 |
This novel is a sequel to The Spectator Bird. Joe and Ruth Allston have returned to California from abroad, trying to find and achieve some measure of contentment in a rhythm of retired life. Joe is still deeply affected by the death of his son and in this book we find out more about his wayward son and Joe’s difficult relationship with him.

Into their lives come several neighbors about whom Joe has strong feelings that tell us much about his state of mind and about the complex relationships across age differences. Jim Peck is a hippie-type student who gets permission from Joe and Ruth – very reluctantly from Joe – to set up a camp on their property across from their home. Jim personifies the “new age” ethos of young people with his mystical, and to Joe repellent, approaches to life. Joe sees nothing of any productive value in the way that Jim lives; he considers Jim’s life to be nonsensical and self-absorbed. Jim symbolizes the arrogance of youth who think that a lifestyle counter to the prevailing culture is by its nature superior. Jim becomes a sort of guru attracting young people to his “ashram” and carrying on in ways that irritate Joe. Since the novel was written in the late 60’s it is apparent that the relationship between Joe and Jim is evocative of the generation gap so much in people’s thinking at that time. Jim in his dissolute and, to Joe, rather pointless existence reminds Joe of his son Curtis, a shiftless dilettante whose way of living his life was so troubling to Joe.

The Allston’s have some new neighbors – John and Marian Caitlin – who moved into a house nearby. They are young, closer in age to Jim than Joe and Ruth. Joe has entirely different feelings about the Caitlin’s. John is a research scientist at the university who is frequently away of field expeditions. Marian is a cheerful, tolerant, intelligent woman whose optimistic views of the world and how it should be experienced captivate Joe. He is deeply drawn to her, not in a romantic sense, but as an uplifting contrast to how Curtis and Jim lived their lives. Marian is pregnant with the couple’s second child, but there’s a dark cloud looming. Marian has had cancer and there’s a likelihood it may return.

Joe is irascible and easily irritated by the goings on in the neighborhood. Tom Weld, the owner of much of the land surrounding the homes, has sold off lots to developers and Joe is witnessing the destruction of the tranquil countryside. Jim increasingly takes liberties with his stay on the property, hosting wild parties that draw in neighborhood teenagers and result in a crisis. Joe had been looking for the chance to reconcile himself to the past and his present stage in life and is not finding anything but more unhappiness.

Marian’s cancer does return and the prognosis is poor. She decides not to fight it, but to hold on without medication until the birth of the baby. The Allston’s urge her to take on the cancer, but she refuses. While they are supporting Marian, the clashes with Jim and his commune continue to grow until there is an incident involving a neighbor girl. Joe evicts Jim from the property.

The ending is not revealed here. The themes of the novel connect to the difficulties of finding happiness in the face of powerful cultural currents. The book highlights the generational divide that was so pronounced in the 1960’s and which still now is not resolvable. ( )
  stevesmits | Mar 13, 2015 |
This book was first published in 1967 and it's very much a story of its time, but it is also much more than that. For me it's a story about what it's like to be old-ish and starting to think seriously about your own death and how that context affects the way you look at the way younger people are living their lives. I found it to be a sad book - there isn't too much optimism at all. But to me, that's reality. The schemes and ideas of the young idealistic man come to nothing. The optimism and self-sacrifice of the young mother turn out to be entirely mistaken and fruitless. The older narrator is left with a lot of regrets. Although he does end on a slightly upbeat note, this reader was left pondering the loss, the damage, and the waste. ( )
  oldblack | Feb 26, 2014 |
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Oh Sir! the good die first,
And they whose hearts are dry as summer dust
Burn to the socket.
- William Wordsworth
For Trudy, Franny, Judy, Peg
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A half hour after I came down here, the rains began.
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A modern novel of the American West focuses on a California literary agent.

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