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Wings Great Reads: Angle of Repose

4.5 out of 5 stars 115 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Hardcover
  • Publisher: Random House Value Publishing (June 1 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0517184893
  • ISBN-13: 978-0517184899
  • Shipping Weight: 789 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars 115 customer reviews
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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

This long, thoughtful novel about a retired historian who researches and writes about his pioneer grandparents garnered Stegner a Pulitzer Prize.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

"Two stories, past and present, merge to produce what important fiction must: a sense of the enhancement of life". -- Los Angeles Times --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Format: Paperback
Angle of repose, as defined in Stegner's Pulitzer Prize-winning work, is the angle of incline along a riverbed at which dirt and rocks will not slide. More profoundly, it serves as a permeating theme throughout this novel about an elderly amputee who is confined to a wheelchair but remains determined to pursue an independent and active existence. He is historian Lyman Ward, grandson of Susan and Oliver Ward, and through the prism of historical analysis he presents the lives of his grandparents. As he peruses his grandmother's letters to her best friend, we learn of Susan and Oliver's adventures and challenges as pioneers of America's frontier. Oliver, an engineer, dedicates himself first to mining and later to irrigation projects. Susan, an artist and writer, captures the rugged beauty of 19th century western America in her work, while struggling to maintain a marriage and a family under difficult conditions.
This novel, at its heart, is a work about personal endurance and self-discovery. As Lyman explores the hardships of his grandparents' life, he comes to learn more about his own ability to stand firm in the face of difficulty. Lyman's narrative voice is wise, objective, and admiring, at times reminiscent of Philip Roth's Nathan Zuckerman. Through this voice Stegner has managed to capture that elusive feel of what it means to be human and to truly live. His characters ring true in all their beauty and all their flaws. And his message is a powerful one - that life can be a sedentary existence or an active one, and that it is our decision how we react to the circumstances of our environment.
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Format: Paperback
I have far more books on my shelves than I've read. This one I have read, greedily. It is as seductive as reading old letters from an attic. And essentially that is what the main character, Lyman Ward (crippled by disease, seperated from his wife), is doing, taking the voluminous letters of his grandmother's roughshod and proud experience in the West, and forming some semblance of her life, and what it means to his (which he consider's essentially over . . .). There really are two stories here, and to toggle from one to the other (from the late 1800's to the 1970's) and to say such true things about people and America, is genius on the part of Stegner.
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Format: Paperback
Not since Clarissa walked onto her steps in "The Hours," have I immediately loved a character as I did Susan Ward. The life of Susan, as told by her grandson, starts out with much vibrance and excitement. But the parallel story of her grandson's life gives the story an edge- and a glimpse into why he is in pursuit of understanding (and documenting) his grandmother.
The conclusion of these lives (to which we are privy) is not simple nor cheap. But it does stand apart from the rest of the novel. And it does not offer comfort- but rather a glimpse into a set of lives that might be more real than we'd like to admit.
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Format: Paperback
One of Wallace Stegner's greatest peeves as a Western writer was the myth of the West that was promulgated in the bulk of the books about the region. The vast majority of Western novels and movies tended to perpetuate utter myths about the West, instead of grappling with the West itself. Perhaps no American writer knew the West as well as Stegner, not excepting his student Edward Abbey. An inveterate hiker and explorer, he camped or walked nearly every area in the West. He wrote innumerable books about the West and took time to visit every spot he wrote about. For instance, in writing of John Wesley Powell's trip down the Colorado, he retraced his route to gain the greatest possible grasp of what he saw. He traveled the trails that the Mormons and others took in relocating to the West. He was one of the few people to hike along Glen Canyon before Lake Powell consumed it. Moreover, he was raised in the West, spending his childhood on what remained on the frontier.
Given all this, I find it utterly astonishing that a couple of reviewers should have the impression that he does not know whereof he wrote. For instance, one reviewer wrote, "Bottom line: the West has a geography, and its denizens a temperament, that demands that we write and read about it in a way that does justice to the hard realities of life in a barren place." Why he would imagine that Stegner, who was intimately familiar with the geography, was one of its denizens, and knew first hand the hard realities of the place by spending his childhood in a variety of barren places, utterly baffles me. I suspect that it is because the book writes about the REAL West and not the West of the Imagination.
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Format: Paperback
Angle of Repose is the recording of the ebb and flow of life in one family, over generations. The book has an interesting, and at times challenging, structure: A modern-day historian, Lyman Ward, is looking back, doing painstaking research of his family, and his findings become a story on one level - the story of those people. Yet there's an overarching story; his own. Ward must grow and change, and Angle of Repose is ultimately about him. The shifts from past to present are done very well, so the structure worked.

Wallace Stegner is a fantastic writer, and I agree the book deserved a Pulitzer. However, to really appreciate it, you have to bring all of your energy, and that's a lot to ask for 630 pages. I read closely for the first 300 pages or so, and then I just gave up and enjoyed the story. This is unfortunate, but I can't go back and reread it two or three times, as others have done, just to do it justice. Angle of Repose deserves its own semester course.

At times the story is tedious, and at times, it's breathtaking, as with the scene where the hard-charging stagecoach almost shoves Oliver and Susan over a cliff. I valued the descriptions of the towns in which Oliver and Susan lived in the late 19th century. You get a real sense of how America developed and what it took to create such a place! The humans were both heroic and deficient. Although Oliver was almost superhuman, this strong, silent archetype exacted a price from himself and everyone around him for his rigidity. Also, I despaired at Susan's weakness of character, and the way she didn't value her husband or her son. Yet most of the time she was just trying to do the right thing. Everyone was!

In fact, one of the themes of this book was "perseverance in the face of continued and utter failure.
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