Archive for June 26th, 2012

Stegner seeks a true lie in his novel of the American West

June 26, 2012

Is it possible to salvage a life gone wrong?

That’s the question Wallace Stegner sought to answer in 1971 when he published Angle of Repose, his novel of an artistic New Yorker married to a rough-and-ready engineer of the American West. Their story is told as a rather speculative family history being assembled by Lyman Ward, a wheelchair-bound retired historian whose first-person narrative frames the book.

Lyman’s grandmother was Susan Burling, a pretty woman from a modestly well-to-do farming family in Upstate New York. At a rather stuffy Brooklyn party on Dec. 31, 1868, she met Oliver Ward, a bright but untrained engineer who longs to accomplish grand things as a self-made man of the West.

Susan’s interest in Oliver is tepid at best. Then the man she fancies, the brilliant and upwardly mobile magazine editor Thomas Hudson, becomes affianced to Augusta, her best friend. Ward, who has functioned as a sort of backup plan, soon returns from his Western travels, and an engagement quickly follows.

Oliver’s passion for Susan burns brightly from the start. But like a fire built from freshly cut wood, her love for him never bursts into full flame unless conditions are favorable. She constantly measures her marriage against Thomas and Augusta’s seeming idyll, and her union usually suffers by comparison. Read the rest of this entry »

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