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The Spectator Bird | [Wallace Stegner]

The Spectator Bird

Joe Allston is a retired literary agent who is, in his own words, "killing time before time gets around to killing me." His parents and his only son are long dead, leaving him with neither ancestors nor descendants, tradition nor ties. His job, trafficking the talent of others, had not been his choice. He passes through life as a spectator. But a postcard from a friend causes him to return to the journals of a trip he had taken years before.
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Publisher's Summary

Joe Allston is a retired literary agent who is, in his own words, "killing time before time gets around to killing me." His parents and his only son are long dead, leaving him with neither ancestors nor descendants, tradition nor ties. His job, trafficking the talent of others, had not been his choice. He passes through life as a spectator. But a postcard from a friend causes him to return to the journals of a trip he had taken years before. The memories of that trip to his mother's birthplace move through layers of time and meaning, and reveal that Joe Allston isn't quite spectator enough.

©1976 Wallace Stegner; (P)2009 Blackstone Audio, Inc.

What the Critics Say

  • National Book Award Winner, 1976

"Elegant and entertaining. . . .Every scene is adroitly staged and each effect precisely accomplished." (The Atlantic)

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

3.9 (141 )
5 star
 (49)
4 star
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3 star
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2 star
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1 star
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Overall
3.9 (112 )
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3 star
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2 star
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1 star
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Story
4.3 (110 )
5 star
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3 star
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2 star
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1 star
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Performance
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  •  
    Alan Tripp San Francisco, CA 11-25-09
    Alan Tripp San Francisco, CA 11-25-09 Member Since 2009
    HELPFUL VOTES
    9
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    "outstanding narration"

    The narration was great; book was very engrossing, but denouement a bit disappointing for me.

    6 of 7 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Pamela 07-03-14
    Pamela 07-03-14 Member Since 2009
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Maybe it's a case of timing..."

    I hate to say this because I have loved every Stegner I've read so far. But Joe Allson's tedious self-absorption grated on me after a while; don't see how his wife put up with it. The excellent narration only emphasized the petulant whining of the protagonist. I'm of an age where reflections, whether sweet, bitter, regretful, angry or content, are to be expected of me, and I comply. But while I may be approaching the end with some trepidation, and spend way too much time contemplating life and not always positively, I refuse to allow myself to be an Allston. Perhaps it's because unlike Joe, I still have work which I will inhabit until I drop; it keeps me joyfully and necessarily occupied. I may finish the book one of these days; right now it just irritates me.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Betty 09-19-13
    Betty 09-19-13
    HELPFUL VOTES
    4
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    Story
    "Oh my aching bones!"

    When people start complaining about ageing, I stop listening. I do what I can to retain my health and having someone put thoughts of bodily deterioration into my head is not appreciated. This book has a lot of that. At first, I thought it was going to be the whole book.

    Then there was a story but it wasn't the story I wanted. He went to Europe, found (with so little interest) the home of his mother, realized that her name was still known there and just when I was perking up and paying attention, he said "it wasn't worth the price of admission."

    It was a downer to me .. humorless and too much in the head of the main character.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Joyce 09-15-13
    Joyce 09-15-13 Member Since 2004

    Old Reader

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Fabulous"

    This novel is all insight and irony. The writing is glorious. Listening to the superb reading of it by Edward Hermann it took my breath away.

    I wonder if without that superb voice, I would have gotten it. It's amazing to me after a lifetime of reading books, to think that I might have missed a great deal by not having them read to me. A reader of intelligence and eloquence, brings to a great book much of what an actor such as Lawrence Olivier brings to Henry the Fifth.

    As I write this I am nearly finished with it and will, as I often do with a book I love, start it again from the beginning before I do. This way I not only put off parting ways with it but get to savor it with a double appreciation, so to speak.

    I wish I had the capacity to find the words to review it properly. Just have a listen.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    HIII 01-07-13
    HIII 01-07-13 Member Since 2010
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Lovely!"

    This is a book for grown-ups who have been grown up for a long time! As Wallace Stegner describes ageing the listener knows he is basing his comments on both experience (personal) and skill (writing). But, mercy, he does it with such style. The adventure in the story is good also shocking and awful. What was especially outstanding for me as a listener were the descriptions of personal relationships. He knows, accepts and loves his wife, he honors the friend who is critically ill, he really likes the friend who also is his doctor from a reality based admiration. Even his interacting with the cat is fantastic. So....grown ups of the world this one is for us - and you youngin' put it on a list for later, just don't miss it!

    4 of 6 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Ken Draeger SCOTTSDALE, AZ, US 03-01-14
    Ken Draeger SCOTTSDALE, AZ, US 03-01-14 Member Since 2007
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Preoccupied With Death...but Well Written"

    Well written, but not much excitement or happiness. Descriptions are very well done. Tone is modest and pleasant. I will read everything he has written because he is a very good story teller. Though the telling of the story is very good, the topic is a bit dour. Cheers, Ken

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Erik Sooke, British Columbia, Canada 12-05-13
    Erik Sooke, British Columbia, Canada 12-05-13 Member Since 2011
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Would be better as a short story..."

    This was an oddball read for me. While the underlying story was interesting enough, I found the author overly descriptive. I know that in some literary circles, "painting" a vivid picture via prose is considered the highest from of story telling, but as in with most things in life, moderation is the key.

    As I've said, however, the underlying story was quite interesting and a little bit twisted when you think about it, but I won't give anything away here. Overall, it was a rather depressing tale, so I won't recommend this for anyone looking for a light uplifting read.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Ingrid 10-21-13
    Ingrid 10-21-13 Member Since 2010
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    "This book made me think"

    The story is a simple one, but one gets into it and it makes one think. It took me a while to get into it but it was narrated at a comforting pace and is short enough to not labour.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Rebecca J. Leamon Ellsworth, ME United States 10-19-13
    Rebecca J. Leamon Ellsworth, ME United States 10-19-13 Member Since 2013
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Odd Mishmash: Great writer, uneven plot"

    Well: Stegner's writing knocked my socks off, but the overall content of this novel left me scratching my head. The main character is depressingly flat and whiny, even; there are several plotlines that are left unfinished and unresolved, and the one plot line that creates suspense at all is convoluted, weird, and, yes, also unresolved. Overall, while the performance was very strong and Stegner's description was deft and impressive, the novel felt like a rough draft or a collection of ideas for a longer, more polished piece.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Kev 09-23-13
    Kev 09-23-13
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    "Perfect Match of Author and Reader"
    If you could sum up The Spectator Bird in three words, what would they be?

    The Spectator Bird, one of the funniest saddest books you'll ever hear, finds the perfect reader in Edward Herrmann. All readers should aspire to the standard he sets. Listening to Herrmann read was as though there were nothing between me and the author; as though Wallace Stegner were communicating his novel directly to me with no intermediary.

    I put Mr Herrmann right up there with George Guidall –– he's that good!


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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