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Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner

Angle of Repose by Wallace StegnerAfter being introduced to the late Wallace Stegner’s work last year with his 1987 novel Crossing to Safety, I was immensely looking forward to delving into my next selection from his books – Angle of Repose. This is arguably Stegner’s most widely acclaimed novel, and it earned him the 1971 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. They are obviously two very different novels, but having enjoyed Crossing to Safety so much, could Angle of Repose possibly meet my high expectations?

Read on for a full review….

-- Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner a Review by Des Greene --

Lyman Ward has been crippled by a debilitating bone disease and left wheelchair bound; he is also largely alone after being left by his wife. Having converted the isolated ancestral family home to maintain his independence for as long as he possibly can, he is using his solitude to explore and collate the copious writings of his paternal grandmother and work them into a novel examining her life. His son Rodman, naturally concerned for his father’s welfare has other ideas, and would like to see him move to a safer and more managed retirement.

What emerges then, is almost a book within a book as we learn the history of his grandparents, Susan and Oliver, through their struggle to forge a new life in the wilds of the unconquered West of the eighteen hundreds, and we are then able to compare this to Lyman’s own situation, and to the relationships of his housekeeper Ada, and her daughter Shelly.

Susan is from a rather cultured background, and is very creative as both an artist and writer, she craves and deeply misses the friendships and society she has had to leave behind in the East. Oliver on the other hand, whilst still very talented and driven, is of a much more taciturn and practical nature; he has no problem in ploughing on through endless engineering, environmental and financial difficulties. Oliver’s fledgling career takes them to a variety of one horse locations, and Susan has to make the best of the limited intellectual opportunities along with the problems of raising a family in such conditions.

Despite these obvious pressures, there is a sense of duty, commitment and responsibility possibly inherent to a bygone age that binds them together. This is contrasted against the troubled relationship of Shelly, and of course Lyman’s own marriage, and we are left to ponder what has changed over the years, and for better or worse, or have things remained much the same despite the passage of time.

Wallace Stegner’s writing is beautiful, and Angle of Repose is no exception; intelligent, descriptive, thought provoking, whilst maintaining an easy reading style without a whiff of the self important obscurity that some “serious” authors are intent on inflicting.  On that basis I couldn’t recommend this book more highly; but to return to my earlier question – was it a match for Crossing to Safety? It was a close run thing, but in the end Crossing to Safety just about takes the laurels for me; possibly because it was my first Stegner, or possibly I felt a greater emotional involvement with the characters.

So hard to choose, so I suggest you read both!

Already read Angle of Repose? What did you think of it? Please post a comment below, Novel Suggestions is always keen to hear your opinions.

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