A retired professor, confined to a wheelchair in his family home in northern California, collects notes to write his grandmother's life story and ends up telling his own.
There is no raucous action, no grand finale, no hysterical laughter. The book's strength comes not from the plot but from the way the words are set out. Many characters float in and out of this exploration of life in the West but it is Lyman Ward, the modern narrator, whose tale binds the entire work. And Lyman Ward is dying. Having sensed tragedy on several levels and enraptured by the language, I was in no hurry to finish Angle of Repose.
At times I put the book down, uninterested in finding out how the characters' often miserable lives turned out. The ending is a blur. But all of those reservations are overshadowed by detailed recollections of life in the mining towns of New Almaden, Colorado, Idaho, and Grass Valley, and stunning descriptions of desolation, heartbreak, love, and trust. I loved how the story shifted from then to "now" and back again, sometimes leaving you wondering about time and space for a page or two. I grew up around many of the places Stegner includes in the book and I am grateful for his descriptions of life before the shopping centers, highways, and relatively easy living came to strip away the raw nature and risk involved in living there. Controversy surrounding Stegner's un-acknowledged use of the Foote letters as basis for Susan Ward's writings does not detract from the best parts of the book (and there are so many of them). His writing is rich and luscious beyond (my) words. Even if you don't finish it, read some of this book and revel in the phrasing.