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Angle of Repose | [Wallace Stegner]

Angle of Repose

Wallace Stegner's uniquely American classic centers on Lyman Ward, a noted historian who relates a fictionalized biography of his pioneer grandparents at a time when he has become estranged from his own family. Through a combination of research, memory, and exaggeration, Ward voices ideas concerning the relationship between history and the present, art and life, parents and children, and husbands and wives.
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Publisher's Summary

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize when it was first published in 1971, Angle of Repose has also been selected by the editorial board of the Modern Library as one of the hundred best novels of the 20th century.

Wallace Stegner's uniquely American classic centers on Lyman Ward, a noted historian who relates a fictionalized biography of his pioneer grandparents at a time when he has become estranged from his own family. Through a combination of research, memory, and exaggeration, Ward voices ideas concerning the relationship between history and the present, art and life, parents and children, and husbands and wives. Like other great quests in literature, Lyman Ward's investigation leads him deep into the dark shadows of his own life. The result is a deeply moving novel that, through the prism of one family, illuminates the American present against the fascinating background of its past.

Set in many parts of the West, Angle of Repose is a story of discovery - personal, historical, and geographical - that endures as Wallace Stegner's masterwork: an illumination of yesterday's reality that speaks to today's.

©1971 Wallace Stegner; (P)2009 Blackstone Audio, Inc.

What the Critics Say

"Brilliant....Two stories, past and present, merge to produce what important fiction must: a sense of the enhancement of life." (Los Angeles Times)
"Masterful...Reading it is an experience to be treasured." (Boston Globe)

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

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Performance
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  •  
    Laurene New York 04-13-12
    Laurene New York 04-13-12 Member Since 2006
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    "A magnificent novel, beautifully read"

    The story is told by Lyman Ward, a grumpy historian pushing 60 who has been disabled by a serious joint problem during the 1970s. To occupy his hours, he is researching the story of his grandparents' marriage, mostly from the perspective of his grandmother, Susan, a "lady" from good Massachusetts stock, shoulder-rubber with writers and artists like Louisa May Alcott and Emerson. Her husband, Oliver Ward, is a mining engineer, and his (very rocky) career takes them all over the West in mid-1800s. This is alternately exhilarating and devastating for her, as their fortunes and hopes go up and down and she feels she's in "exile" from almost anyone who could understand her.

    Meanwhile, Lyman hires the caretaker's daughter, a free-spirited counterculture type, and they talk about the differences between the new ways of seeing life and love and his grandmother's. (He mostly gets the best of these discussions.)

    The novel won a bunch of prizes when it came out years ago -- well deserved. It's one of the greatest American novel's I've ever read. There were times when, listening to it on my headset, I just had to stop whatever I was doing and just allow the story to happen because I could not do or think of anything else.

    Some other notes: This also has to be one of the best novels written by a man from a (mostly) woman's perspective that I've ever read as well, and the narrator, Mark Bramhall, handles this SO well. He has to go from taciturn Western men, to cranky gruff Lyman, to genteel Susan and not make any of them sound like caricatures: Bravo!

    Also, finally, what a moving, sad, joyful, compassionate, wise depiction this is of a long marriage, one of the most commonplace and yet mysterious of human experiences.

    Just cannot recommend this more highly.

    24 of 24 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Bonny West Brattleboro, VT, United States 12-06-12
    Bonny West Brattleboro, VT, United States 12-06-12 Member Since 2011

    JHK

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    "Beautiful reading of a terrific book"

    This is one of my all-time favorite books; I re-read it every few years. This is the first time I've listened to it, Mark Bramhall does a marvelous job with the reading. The characters and their emotions are beautifully rendered without overdoing it. The connection between Lyman Ward (the narrator) and his grandparents, about whom he is writing, is palpable and deeply moving.

    Having listened to this and to Lev Grossman's The Magicians and The Magician King, Mark Bramhall vaults onto my Top Readers List. A beautiful job.

    10 of 10 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Melinda UT 01-24-13
    Melinda UT 01-24-13 Member Since 2009

    So hooked by audio that I have to read books aloud. *If my reviews help, please let me know.

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    Story
    "The Quest for Balance"

    Ten years ago I picked up this novel, read through the first couple of chapters, uttered an, "ugh" and moved on--with serious doubts regarding the tastes of the friend that recommended the read. (In hindsight and looking at some of my own choices, I understand whose taste was questionable.) Forward ten years--I find myself wondering if this novel I've been glued to the last 3 days is the same book I plodded through years ago.

    I recently saw a documentary on Wallace Stegner, produced in 2009 at the request of then Utah Governor, Jon Huntsman, whom declared Feb. 18th, '09, Wallace Stegner Day in Utah (Stegner lived in Utah and graduated from the University of Utah). It was out of curiosity, not native pride (I'm a transplant) that I purchased this Stegner novel. Same book--very different eyes and ears. Awarded the Pulitzer in '72, on the *Top 100* and *Most Important* books of the century, by an author referred to as the "conscience of the conservation movement," nonetheless considered overlooked, underrated, controversial, and (piously) snubbed.

    For retired historian Lyman Ward, a window to the past becomes ominously reflective as he looks into the history of his grandparents and sees his own possible future. The text resourcefully splices together the actual letters of 19th century author and illustrator Mary Hallock Foote with a fictional story-in-a-story of marriage, expectations, exploration, art, and the conquest of the wild unforgiving west. The letters--the blasted wonderful letters that caused such controversy--are the framework for the story, and add an authentic Victorian flourish, so polar to the rough ungentrified country west of the Mississippi. Hallock's missives are an incredible record of the times, a timeline entwining Geronimo terrorizing the west with Emily Dickinson writing her poetry, Twain publishing Huckleberry Finn, Winslow Homer painting, Wyatt Earp keeping law and order in Tombstone. They also reflect the contrasts of the changing times: the elite artists and writers of the eastern states--the rugged west and the toughened adventurers; the dreams of an aspiring artist/genteel lady--the harsh realities of life in the west; the exploitation of the land--the uncommon insight of conservation. But, it took Stegner's beautiful writing to create this unforgettable depiction of the raw frontier and the colorful characters that fought for every inch of conquest; it is his words, not the regrettful ponderings of Hallock, that create this generational quest to find balance and grace. The controversy and snub that resulted from Stegner using the letters seem a moot point to me when presented with such a beautiful novel. Stegner acknowledged using the letters, and openly stated he had the permission of the descendant that turned the letters over to him to do so. (I doubt Leonardo's critic's thought him less an artist because Mona was uncannily mysterious and beautiful).

    The novel hasn't changed in 10 years, but my appreciation of it has; it is now a favorite. Sometimes it is better to be told a story than it is to read a story. The audio version was perfection for this book; the characters came alive, the West was vivid and enticing, and I was captivated.

    44 of 48 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Barry Petaluma, CA, United States 08-18-12
    Barry Petaluma, CA, United States 08-18-12 Member Since 2006

    My interests run to psychology, popular science, history, world literature, and occasionally something fun like Jasper Fforde. It seems like the only free time I have for reading these days is when I'm in the car so I am extremely grateful for audio books. I started off reading just the contemporary stuff that I was determined not to clutter up my already stuffed bookcases with. And now audio is probably 90% of my "reading" matter.

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Not too many novels written about marriage"

    as opposed to courtship. This is a fairly profound extended meditation on marriage, civilized behavior, temptation, forgiveness, and redemption. The controversy over the usage of Mary Hallock Foote's letters gets even more blurred in the audio version since it's impossible to know where or when anything is in quotation marks. It's an amazing evocation of American life in the 1870s and 1880s, and a reminder of what is universal in all our lives and relationships. It's fascinating to be reminded that so many of the things in this book actually happened. It's also a time-capsule of what life was like circa 1970; a reminder of how things were different and how much hasn't really changed at all. So much so-called historical fiction depends upon trying to invent a narrative and half-baked characters over a framework of historical events. This book is different. Every character rings true. Every reaction and feeling rings true. And Stegner is smart enough not to try to explain things that cannot be explained. Therein lies the work of the reader.

    7 of 7 people found this review helpful
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    Katherine New Hartford, CT, United States 01-16-13
    Katherine New Hartford, CT, United States 01-16-13 Member Since 2010
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    "The most marvelous book"

    The Angle of Repose is a book I saw my mother read years ago. I was too young then to share it with her but knew it was on my must read list just by quietly watching her experience this remarkable book during one hot summer vacation. This book is a masterpiece - I think it is the best american novel I have yet read. Stegner opens a door to us into a world so different from our own,and yet so familiar and heartrending and human. I can not remember ever being so moved by the characters in a novel. Stegner's prose is gorgeous - there is a rapture that takes over while listening to it. His description of the western landscape inspires true reverence. The empathy and care he takes in creating characters and relationships is awe inspiring. I read the book about a year ago, and decided to buy the audio version because I wanted to experience it again and because I knew Mark Bramhall would do a fine thing with the reading of such a book. I envy those about the listen for the first time!

    5 of 5 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Butler Rancho Santa Fe, CA, United States 05-07-12
    Butler Rancho Santa Fe, CA, United States 05-07-12 Member Since 2007
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    "A rich story, beautifully read"

    A rich and beautiful book about a marriage, motherhood, and friendship. While the story takes place years ago, there is still so much to relate to today. Not a happy story, but a realistic one. I still am surprised this was written by a man.. his perspective is amazing.The reader was fantastic.

    5 of 5 people found this review helpful
  •  
    John MENLO PARK, CA, United States 07-14-10
    John MENLO PARK, CA, United States 07-14-10 Member Since 2007
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    "On many of the Top 100 Lists, now I know why!"

    Excellent book. Really enjoyed it. It not only makes you feel like you invested your listening time well, but it also makes you reflect on your ancestors and your own family histories. Highly recommended.

    10 of 11 people found this review helpful
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    Kelli Birmingham, AL, United States 05-11-12
    Kelli Birmingham, AL, United States 05-11-12 Member Since 2002

    Listen on dog walks, commutes and around the house. Welcome virtually any genre but southern fiction holds a special place in my heart.

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Great Story of 1880s American West"

    This quiet book hit home for me on multiple levels and I enjoyed this read very much. The format is a story within a story - one set in the present of the 1970s and the other set in the late 1880s - and the narrator, a retired and disabled Berkley professor, is struggling to write a history of his grandparent's lives while simultaneously reflecting on his own lot in life. As a budding genealogist with a secret wish to capture my own family's history on paper, I was drawn to the historical nature of the story as well as the narrator's mission. The book also spoke to me on an emotional level and I enjoyed the study of relationships, and especially the power play between the narrator's grandparents. The balance between his grandmother's career and preconceived notions of what her marriage and husband "should be" and their impact on her husband and children felt very contemporary. Although I have questioned the award of the Pulitzer Prize in the past, this time the accolades are justified.

    7 of 8 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Ken Scottsdale, AZ, United States 05-06-12
    Ken Scottsdale, AZ, United States 05-06-12 Member Since 2007

    Retired high tech CEO who raised quarter horses, pilots his own Bonanza A36 airplane, enjoys shooting sports and spending time with his lovely wife and family

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Interesting Slice of US History"

    Since the story teller is somewhat of an invalid with a dour attitude, most of the story is inflicted with his depressing state of mind. However, I did find the historical perspective to be informative. If you prefer or insist upon happy endings, you should pass.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Amazon Customer Utah 08-22-13
    Amazon Customer Utah 08-22-13 Member Since 2009

    tired teacher

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    "A Lesson in Live"

    Although I rarely comment on a book when I am only on chapter three, I must say something about this one, with the understanding that I will update it when I am finished with the book. I suppose I immediately resonated with the story because it hasn't been that long since my parents were aging and in wheelchairs as the protagonist is in this story. Or perhaps it is because I am starting to show signs of aging, and I can identify with the protagonist's thought processes. But ultimately, I believe I loved this book from the opening paragraphs because of the exquisite writing of Wallace Stegner. I hope it doesn't let me down as I complete the book. I have a feeling that it won't.

    Ah Ha, It didn't let me down. I loved this book.

    6 of 7 people found this review helpful
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  • Sarah
    GLASGOW, United Kingdom
    4/21/14
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    "Pioneer Priorities"

    This was a sad, wee tale of a man and wife in the 1870s. The wife always feels she has married beneath herself and no matter what the husband does, it always seems to be the wrong thing. As a result, they are often left with large absences in their marriage as the husband lives far off to earn a decent wage.

    It was difficult who to feel sympathy for as the wife was often openly ashamed of her husband's lower status and the husband always seemed to be getting involved in schemes that lost money. Personally, I felt sorry for the husband, he knew how the wife felt and could do not right, despite working terribly hard. Sad, but a good listen.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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