Joe Allston, the retired literary agent in Stegner’s National Book Award-winning novel The Spectator Bird, returns in this disquieting and keenly observed novel.
Scarred by the senseless death of their son and baffled by the engulfing chaos of the 1960s, Allston and his wife, Ruth, have left the coast for a California retreat. And although their new home looks like Eden, it also has its serpents: Jim Peck, a messianic exponent of drugs, yoga, and sex, and Marian Catlin, an attractive young woman whose otherwordly innocence is far more appealing—and far more dangerous.
©1967 Wallace Stegner (P)2010 Blackstone Audio, Inc.
“Timely and timeless....Will hold any reader to its last haunting page.” (Chicago Tribune)
“A novel of crackling vividness.” (New York Times Book Review)
I hear voices. But maybe that's because there's always an Audible book in my ear.
I always feel like I have to say at the top of a Wallace Stegner review, "No, it's not Angle of Repose." But not many things are. It ranks high on my all time favorite list. But it is Wallace Stegner and that's always better than nearly anyone else.
There's a certain honesty in the way Stegner writes that takes my breath away. He has a way of admitting to his weaknesses and failures in a way that makes you understand that it's possible to own those things. He doesn't dwell on it, but that honesty always sits right in the front.
He writes about the world as it is - not the world he wants it to be. And that is what makes his books so lovely.
Much of the first half of the book is typical story setup: introduction of characters, setting the scene, and the like, which is fine, although it's dragged out here with the focus on squatter Jim Peck (technically, he has Joe's grudging permission to stay on the property). As the hippie-ish young man makes himself gradually into a more permanent fixture, than just pitching tent, Joe's level of resentment grows ... as did my fatigue. Second half of the story contains flashbacks to Joe's past, that help explain his strong feelings, as well as another storyline about a neighbor, until the Final Conflict, where all goes horribly wrong. It's no spoiler to say that Peck is quite manipulative, although perhaps a slight one in mentioning that Joe's mistrust proves grounded in the end.
Stegner could write ... and how! Unfortunately, the story's grim tone marches on throughout, his heavy-handed warning about the societal changes that the 60's will bring seeming dated, and largely disproved. Edward Hermann does a knockout job with the narration, as though the book were written back then with him specifically in mind for the job.
Stegner writes about nature and people with heart-stopping beauty.
Stegner's acute rendering of people, their complexities and struggles.
Every time he describes the land, the sky, a character's expression.
Jim Peck. Although he's an infuriating idealistic and naive hippie in narrator Joe Allston's eyes, he is also a character in search of truth, beauty and purity. But he inevitably gets tripped up by his own falseness and darkness, like we all do.
This story is told through the eyes of a man whose son died at an early age, and he's not sure what he could have done to prevent it. It also centers on his neighbor lady who is dying of cancer. In spite of these sad circumstances, the book is well worth the read. The prose is so utterly descriptive, it requires you to read on and on. And before you know it you have come to the end longing for more. Cheers, Ken
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