Thanks to my friend Lauren’s recommendation and a appearance on the 2014 Her.meneutics Summer Reading List, this book caught my eye and made it onto my 2014 reading list, as well.
Wallace Stegner’s Angle of Repose is not a new book; but as a Pulitzer Prize winning novel, it has repeatedly made a rise to popularity since it was first published in 1971.
This is a story about a retired historian, Lyman Ward, spending his early senior years confined to a wheelchair with a debilitating bone disease and writing the story of his grandparents, Susan and Oliver Ward. While, at first, their stories appear to be separated by history and held together by common family history, their stories are inextricably linked in more ways than Lyman initially imagined.
At it’s heart, this is a story of marriage. A story of an unlikely marriage, full of difficult circumstances, strong commitments, and choices whose consequences are still being written into the family’s history. It is a story of conquest, of hope deferred, and of strength personified.
As I read this book, I saw glimpses of my own parents’ unlikely marriage (though very different in many ways) and of the similarities that any marriage must endure if placed in prolonged, difficult circumstances. Likely, anyone who has been married for at least a couple of years will connect with the characters at some point along the way.
Stegner does a remarkable job of developing each individual character without the reader needing to give much thought to the remarkable skill required to do so. (But when you take time to think about it, it’s dazzling!) Not only does he paint his characters well, but he does the same with the surrounding scenery and historical backdrop. I walked away from this book having vivid images of the American frontier in my mind, even though I’ve not visited the majority of the places and times written of here. Like memories of past places and photographic memories I can recall from a trip, thinking about certain scenes of this book also evokes picturesque settings.
The title itself, Angle of Repose, is a beautiful play on words: weaving in both Susan and Oliver’s careers, as well as their analogous, eventual embodiment of this particular engineering term. Like the title, the entirety of the book is rich with similar literary devices, only enhancing the story.
This was my first time to read a book by Wallace Stegner, and if the others are anything like it, I’ll look forward to reading many more.
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