I very much wanted to like this book for several reasons: (1) I heard Andrew Imbrie's operatic treatment of the story during San Francisco Opera's "Spring Opera" season in 1976; (2) the La Jolla Symphony and Chorus has named their current 2011-2012 season "Angle of Repose" as a tribute to the author, Wallace Stegner; (3) it gets very good ratings in surveys of the best American books and is, in fact, #83 on the Modern Library's 100 Best Novels list. It even received a Pulitzer Prize.
Stegner is undeniably a fine prose stylist and the way he chooses to tell his story is rather complex and interesting, although this very narrative complexity undermined my willing suspension of disbelief. Everything is filtered through the imagination of a grouchy, socially reactionary scholar (who may or may not be a projection of Stegner) named Lyman Ward, who at age 60 is doing research on his grandmother, Susan, the long-suffering wife of a brave but congenital failure for whom nothing goes right in the wilds of California, Idaho, Colorado and Mexico in the late 1800's. Stegner has controversially "lifted" the actual letters of Mary Hallock Foote, the only authentic voice in the book. Her correspondence, quoted verbatim I am told, constitutes 10% of Stegner's finished novel. But then Lyman lets us know that he is inventing virtually everything else he tells us about his grandmother and grandfather, which for me, at least, creates an alienation effect I cannot quite overcome. The final dream sequence of the book is, I imagine, a metaphor for the whole thing. Interested readers are left to puzzle together how Lyman relates his broken marriage to the lasting bond of his grandparents.
I am especially interested in books that deal with women's issues and experiences, so I was moved by Susan's (Mary's) letters and the general tale of her fortitude raising a family and dealing with her husband in an environment so unlike that to which she would have liked to have been and could have been accustomed in the American East. The story itself, however, seems overly drawn out for the number of truly significant incidents that occur in it. The narrator, Lyman Ward, also lacked appeal for me, perhaps because I was a member of that very UC Berkeley generation he so continually disapproves of. A contrast between the current times and the past favor the heroism of the latter.
I was frequently extremely irritated by the reader, Mark Bramhall, who would be just fine if he did not adopt an absurd, breathy falsetto when reading Susan's words. She sounds more like a whining child than a mature woman. Oliver Ward comes off as sounding unpleasantly growly. But, my hat's off to these Audiobook readers; and I cannot imagine the challenges of reciting this long book out loud.
This is a wonderful reading. Mark Bramhall sounds just like Wallace Stegner. It's like having that wonderful man right beside me.
This story provides a good historical perspective from a personal and family level but largely fails in its aim to do more. The title is a mining or geological term meaning the slope of a hill resulting from falling matter, here applied to a retired academic working on a bio of his grandmother, mostly, who was a minor writer and sketch artist in late-19th Century New York and New England, and his capable, even inventive and ambitious but flawed westerner grandfather. His voice is a little prissy and the grandmother comes across as a bit of a whiner, when not defensive (to her friends). Some nice connections between his Victorian Grandparents and the crassness and loose morals of his son, divorced wife, and the hippy daughter of his helper. The narrator does a good job assuming the author's voice, sometimes annoyingly so.
I love Wallace Stegner's writing and have enjoyed his other stories. This one, however, is not my favorite. It's about an old curmudgeon historian that writes about his great-grandmother's life in the old West. The historical accuracy is just perfect. I learned a lot about how life was back in the late 1880's in Colorado, California, etc. But, what I did not like was the going back and forth to the 1970's from where the story is told. It was a bit depressing.
No, I only recommend books I really like. I found my mind wondered a lot during the story, that the voice of the tale irritated me, and in jumped around too much in time.
I think the story of Susan and her husband was interesting and would have held me had the author not get jumping around to present.half the time I felt like I was listening to the ramblings of the story teller, with little consideration for who was listening.
I found the narrators vouce, or maybe I should say, tone of voice, annoying after a while. I think he played the tone of a disgruntled older man well, but I'm afraid it was the voice ot the man he played that bugged me.
I could not imagine a movie.
I must read more Stegner! Very powerful story of a frontier life, and a modern interpretation of that very interesting life. Excellent narration, especially the female characters.
From what I have learned, Mr. Wallace Stegner pulled off a very difficult novel in Angle of Repose, a story inside another story, a Chinese box inside another box. This is very complicated thing to do, and this novel is an example of it being done very well.
The story line is about an invalid historian writing the story of his grandmother. This heroine was born and raised a sheltered daughter of a high class New England family who fell in love with a man determined to self educate as an engineer in the west of early settlement days just after Custer's day.
He went from job to job and did well but never made it big. His sheltered wife followed him wherever he went and did herself proud. However as life will, things get very complicated and she ends up making a tragic mistake that is unforgivable. I will let you find out about that for yourself, but I highly recommend that you do so.
Shame on the teachers who didn't expose me to this amazing marvel of a book and this gifted writer. Beautifully written, well performed, and more educational in terms of the early American West than anything I've read elsewhere. An under-appreciated American classic.
This book is outstanding! So very sorry I did not read it before this, but so glad I found it. It is so well written and such a compelling story that I didn't want it to end. I know there was controversy about Stegner's use of the letters of Mary Hallock Foote, but the story he wove around those letters is remarkable.
As a result of reading this I just purchased Crossing to Safety, another book by Wallace Stegner, and A Victorian Gentlewoman in the Far West: The Reminiscences of Mary Hallock Foote. Can't wait to read them!!