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Authors: Wallace Stegner

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Angle of Repose

BOOK: Angle of Repose
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Table of Contents
Wallace Stegner (1909-1993) was the author of, among other novels,
Remembering Laughter,
The Big Rock Candy Mountain,
Joe Hill,
All the Little Live Things,
1967 (Commonwealth Club Gold Medal);
A Shooting Star,
Angle of Repose,
1971 (Pulitzer Prize);
The Spectator Bird,
1976 (National Book Award, 1977);
1979; and
Crossing to Safety,
1987. His nonfiction includes
Beyond the Hundredth Meridian,
Wolf Willow,
The Sound of Mountain Water
(essays), 1969;
The Uneasy Chair: A Biography of Bernard DeVoto,
1974; and
Where the Bluebird Sings to the Lemonade Springs: Living and Writing in the West
(1992). Three of his short stories have won O. Henry Prizes, and in 1980 he received the Robert Kirsch Award from the
Los Angeles Times
for his lifetime literary achievements. His
Collected Stories
was published in 1990.
Jackson J. Benson was born and raised in San Francisco, graduated from Stanford, and received his M.A. from San Francisco State University and his Ph.D. from the University of Southern California. From 1966 to 1997 he served as professor of English and comparative literature at San Diego State University, where he taught twentieth-century American literature. Twice a fellow of the National Endowment of the Humanities, he has published eleven books on modern American literature. Among them is the authorized biography
The True Adventures of John Steinbeck, Writer
(1984), which won the PEN West USA award for nonfiction. His latest work was the authorized biography
Wallace Stegner: His Life and Work
(1996), which won the David Woolley and Beatrice Cannon Evans Biography Award.
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First published in the United States of America by
Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1971
Published by arrangement with Doubleday, a division of Random House, Inc.
Published in Penguin Books 1992
This edition with an introduction by Jackson J. Benson
published in Penguin Books 2000
Copyright @ Wallace Stegner, 1971
Introduction copyright © Jackson J. Benson, 2000
All rights reserved
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Stegner, Wallace Earle, 1909-
Angle of repose / Wallace Stegner ; with an introduction by Jackson J. Benson.
p. cm.—(Penguin twentieth-century classics)
Includes bibliographical references.
eISBN : 978-1-101-07582-1
1. Historians—Fiction. 2. Physically handicapped—Fiction. 3. Married
people—Fiction. 4. Grandparents—Fiction. 5. Aged—Fiction. 6. California—
Fiction. I. Title. II. Series.
813’.52—dc21 00-062402
The scanning, uploading and distribution of this book via the Internet or via any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law.
Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.

For my son, Page.
My thanks to J.M. and her sister for the loan of their ancestors. Though I have used many details of their lives and characters, I have not hesitated to warp both personalities and events to fictional needs. This is a novel which utilizes selected facts from their real lives. It is in no sense a family history.
Angle of Repose
is Wallace Stegner’s masterpiece, the crown jewel in a multifaceted writing career. From the time he finished his Ph.D. in 1935 to his death in 1993, he published some fifty-eight short stories, a dozen novels, two histories, two biographies, a memoir-history, and five collections of essays. He was given numerous awards for his writings, including the Pulitzer Prize for
Angle of Repose,
the National Book Award for
The Spectator Bird,
and the Lifetime Achievement Award by the
Los Angeles Times.
From the early 1950s, he became as well known for his environmental activities and writings as for his fiction. However, it was the writing of novels that was closest to his heart, and it was as a novelist that he wanted to be remembered. In a recent poll of readers of the
San Francisco Chronicle
voting on the best one hundred novels written about the West,
Angle of Repose
was listed number one. Often mentioned by critics as one of the most important American novels of the twentieth century, it alone should ensure Stegner’s reputation. (In a
poll of best nonfiction books, his John Wesley Powell biography,
Beyond the Hundredth Meridian,
was listed number two.)
Wallace Stegner’s life almost spanned the twentieth century, from the last homestead frontier in Saskatchewan to the information age in Silicon Valley, from horse and plow to mouse and computer. The major strands of his career—his love of the land, his concern for history, his advocacy of cooperation and antagonism toward rugged individualism—and his dedication to writing can be clearly seen as products of his early life. He was born in Iowa in 1909, the younger of two sons, but the family soon moved to North Dakota, to Washington State, and then to Eastend, Saskatchewan. His father, George Stegner, was what his son later called a “boomer,” a man looking to find a fortune in the West and who, not finding it in one place, went to another. His mother was what Wallace called a “nester.” She wanted nothing more than a home of her own in which to raise a family.
Wallace’s accounts of his growing up make it clear that a dichotomy developed early in his consciousness between the proud, tough, intolerant rugged individualism represented by his father and the friendly, tolerant, neighborly tendencies toward caring and cooperation represented by his mother. And as we can see throughout his writing, Wallace’s sympathies lay with his mother and the values she represented. Although like her husband his mother never went beyond the eighth grade in school, she loved books and passed on a love of reading to her son.
Together his parents would seem to have been the archetypal western couple. In later years, as a writer, Wallace saw them as representing the exploiter, on the one hand, and the civilizer on the other. Although they are quite different in character and background, we can see Oliver and Susan Ward in their roles in
Angle of Repose
as dim reflections of Stegner’s parents. (Certainly Wallace’s deep love and respect for his mother contributed to his ability to create such complex and sympathetic women characters as Susan Burling Ward.) When asked by an interviewer if the life of Mary Hallock Foote, the model for the heroine of
Angle of Repose,
had reminded him of the life of Elsa Mason, the mother in the semiautobiographical
The Big Rock Candy Mountain,
Stegner said,
Not consciously. It never occurred to me that there was any relation between
Angle of Repose
Big Rock Candy Mountain
till after I had finished writing it. Then I saw that there were all kinds of connections. There was the wandering husband and the nesting woman, and the whole business reproduced in many ways in somewhat more cultivated terms and in different places what
The Big Rock Candy Mountain
was about. It’s perfectly clear that if every writer is born to write one story, that’s my story.
Two periods in his growing up had a major influence on forming his outlook and interests. The first was his six years in childhood spent in the village of Eastend and every summer on the homestead farm in Saskatchewan near the Montana border. After the first year, his older brother, Cecil, got a summer job at the grocery store in town, and so Wallace was alone with his parents, out on the hot prairie, living in a tarpaper shack. It was a place with “searing wind, scorching sky, tormented and heat-warped light, and not a tree.” Yet, amazingly enough considering such a barren and hostile environment, he could still look back on a childhood not of suffering and boredom, but of “wild freedom, a closeness to earth and weather, a familiarity with both tame and wild animals.” His summers on the homestead and winters in the frontier village during his most impressionable years marked him, as he has said, “a westerner for life.” And they would eventually produce a writer determined to represent the western experience as it really was, and the relationship of its people to the land as it was, is, and should be.
BOOK: Angle of Repose
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