2007: 177. Angle of Repose

“Now I believe they will leave me alone.  Obviously Rodman came up hoping to find evidence of my incompetence - though how an incompetent could have got this place renovated, moved his library up, and got himself transported without arousing the suspicion of his watchful children, ought to be a hard one for Rodman to answer.”

Angle of Repose, Wallace Stegner

Angle of Repose is one of these books that throws itself into the “Great American Novel” ring, a sweeping historical story about the West - the real West, not cowboys and Indians - and the Easterners who settled it.  The story is ostensibly that of Lyman Ward, a modern day (well, early 1970’s) historian who has been crippled in an accident and left by his wife, and who has retired from the world to his California ranch, over the objection of his family.  He fills his days researching a book about his grandparents, the first members of the family to come West, and the people who (after much struggle and hardship) eventually built the ranch.  

When I was reading Angle of Repose I thought I would say it was one of the best books I’d read this year, but at the end I could only say it was a darn fine book. I loved, loved the telling of the grandparents’ story.  Stegner has created a hell of a character in Susan Ward - illustrator, displaced Easterner, possible lesbian(?), and proud woman who pays for her pride, and her husband, Oliver the engineer, is pretty interesting himself.  Moreover, the portrait of their marriage, good and bad is absorbing.  I loved reading Stegner’s version of the historical novel.  And yet, when the book ended I felt dissatisfied, and it took me a while to figure out why.  Upon reflection, I felt the book ended too abruptly.   What was the point of Lyman retreating to the grandparent’s home if we never observed them in that place? Why not write about his father and how different his father’s life turned out from what Susan had hoped? The book slowly builds to a crescendo of one life-altering event, and then just ignores all the years afterward, which I found hugely unsatisfying.   I understand that the book was already 565 pages (in paperback), but it felt unfinished.    

Recommended for:  People who want to read a really well written historical novel, people who want to read a really well written portrait of a marriage.

Date/Place Completed: 11/15/07; Memphis, Tennessee 

Categories: Fiction; Modern Library Top 100, Commuting Book

© Carrie Dunsmore 2017