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The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner
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The Spectator Bird (1976)

by Wallace Stegner

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7412118,157 (4.03)76
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English (19)  Spanish (1)  French (1)  All languages (21)
Showing 1-5 of 19 (next | show all)
Wallace Stegner has a wonderful way of writing about aging and relationships. This novel involves a couple revisiting an old journey to seek family roots via the journal kept by the husband.

"But Ruth is right. It is something—it can be everything—to have found a fellow bird with whom you can sit among the rafters while the drinking and boasting and reciting and fighting go on below; a fellow bird whom you can look after and find bugs and seeds for; one who will patch your bruises and straighten your ruffled feathers and mourn over your hurts when you accidentally fly into something you can’t handle. ” (Part Five, Ch.4, p.213)

A lovely novel! ( )
  hemlokgang | Feb 19, 2018 |
Ah, another excellent book from Stegner. In this one and another I read, it feels as though he's writing nonfiction, it's so real. A note from an acquaintance from 20 years ago sends Joe to his notebooks to read about another time in his life. He and his wife visited Denmark -- he grasping for something of his mother and his roots. What he finds is quite different and yet related. The story has plenty of wry humor and also sadness but with an upbeat luminous lining for at least some of the characters.

Stegner's books are such a pleasure to read that I don't want them to end. So, I've ordered most of what he's written, aside from what I've already read. This book is a National Book Award winner and Stegner is a Pulitzer Prize winner. I highly recommend any of his books to those who enjoy literary, soulful writing. I can't think of an author that has his gift for illuminating things we never talk about but all of us know or feel, the grit of this human experience. And he does it elegantly. ( )
  Rascalstar | Jan 21, 2017 |
Love the dialog between Joe and Ruthie; very real. And the description of American youths' perception of seniors as virtually invisible is moving and depressing.

Excellent read. ( )
  Bookish59 | Jun 14, 2016 |
Joe Alston, retired literary agent, is struck by the imminent death of a friend and is moved to pull out some diaries he had written during a trip to Denmark 20 years earlier. He and his wife were still reeling from the death (possibly suicide) of their son and they went to Denmark to see where his mother had been born. They plan on staying several months and find a place to stay sharing an apartment with the Countess Astrid Wredel-Krarup, a stunningly beautiful woman, high born but living in near poverty.

His wife, Ruth, persuades him to read them out loud so that they might confront some unresolved thing that occurred.

This book is relatively short but packs a wallop. ( )
  mamzel | Jun 24, 2015 |
From the first page, I liked The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner. It's the writing. The narrator, Joe Allston, a retired literary agent, is shuffling papers in his study.

From my study I can watch wrens and bush tits in the live oak outside. The wrens are nesting in a hole for the fifth straight year and are very busy: tilted tails going in, sharp heads with the white eyebrow stripe coming out. They are surly and aggressive, and I wonder idly why I, who seems to be as testy as the wrens, much prefer the social bush tits. Maybe because the bush tits are doing what I thought we would be doing out here, just messing around , paying no attention to time or duty, kicking up leaves and playing hide-and-seek up and down the oak trunks and generally enjoying themselves.

It is meditation of this kind that keeps me, at nearly seventy, so contented and wholesome.

Joe is shuffling papers to "pacify a wife who worries about him and who reads newspaper psychiatrists urging the retired to keep their minds active." A postcard arrives that takes him back twenty years, to a trip he and Ruth (his wife) took to Denmark, in part seeking information about his mother's birthplace, but also to salve spirits and emotions damaged by the death six months before of their only child, a 20-year-old son, Curt.

Joe: "He died an over-age beach bum, evading to the last any obligation to become what his mother and I tried to make or help him be, and like my mother's, his death lay down accusingly at my door. He was my only descendant, as she was my only ancestor, and I failed both."

The trip was without itinerary or timetable. Within days of arriving, they rent an apartment, only to learn that the regular occupant is remaining there, giving them three rooms and keeping one for herself. She's a countess, but strangely ostracized by…well…just about everyone. We learn about the trip because Joe kept a diary. When the postcard arrives, he gets out his old diary to revisit that time and place. In short order, Ruth, who didn't know of its existence, insists that he read it to her.

"You don't expect me to read through the whole thing like some schoolmaster doing his annual rereading of Dickens?"

"I thought that's what we were going to do."

Rain like sand pattered at the window. I heard the clogged downspout by the door overflowing a heavy stream onto the bricks. I would have to get the leaves out of that before the next rain. "You want your pound of flesh," I said.

"Oh, Joe!"

"I told you, this isn't going to give either of us much pleasure."

"I didn't think that was the purpose."

"No?" I said. "What was the purpose?" But after a second or two in which we looked at each other with that baffled, stubborn expression that people who have been long time married often wear when they are reading each other's minds, I began reading again. My problem was the opposite of what I said it was. In our relationship with Astrid Wredel-Krarup, and in the recollections that the diary brought back, I wasn't quite spectator enough.

The novel is a story of the couple's explorations in Denmark, but even more, it's a story of an enduring marriage.
2 vote weird_O | Jun 18, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 19 (next | show all)
[A] seamless, beautiful work of imagination and re-imagination, of personal and social history, of love and family, of intimacy and alienation, of loss and discovery.
 
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On a February morning, when a weather front is moving in off the Pacific but has not quite arrived, and the winds are changeable and gusty and clouds drive over and an occasional flurry of fine rain darkens the terraced brics, this place conforms to none of the cliches about California with which they advertise the Sunshine Cities for the Sunset Years.
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And it reminds me too much of how little life changes: how, without dramatic events or high resolves, without tragedy, without even pathos, a reasonably endowed, reasonably well intentioned man can walk through the world's great kitchen from end to end and arrive at the back door hungry.
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Retired literary agent Joe Allston passes through life as a spectator until he discovers the journals of a trip he took to his mother's birthplace years before.

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