Flashback Friday: Angle of Repose

Flashback Friday is my own little weekly tradition, in which I pick a book from my reading past to highlight — and you’re invited to join in!

Here are the Flashback Friday book selection guidelines:

  1. Has to be something you’ve read yourself
  2. Has to still be available, preferably still in print
  3. Must have been originally published 5 or more years ago

Other than that, the sky’s the limit! Join me, please, and let us all know: what are the books you’ve read that you always rave about? What books from your past do you wish EVERYONE would read? Pick something from five years ago, or go all the way back to the Canterbury Tales if you want. It’s Flashback Friday time!

My pick for this week’s Flashback Friday:

Angle of Repose

Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner

(first published 1971)

From Goodreads:

Wallace Stegner’s Pultizer Prize-winning novel is a story of discovery—personal, historical, and geographical. Confined to a wheelchair, retired historian Lyman Ward sets out to write his grandparents’ remarkable story, chronicling their days spent carving civilization into the surface of America’s western frontier. But his research reveals even more about his own life than he’s willing to admit. What emerges is an enthralling portrait of four generations in the life of an American family.

I didn’t grow up in California, although I’ve been living here in the Golden State for over 20 years now. Perhaps that’s why I always feel a gap in my knowledge of the history of the West. In my childhood “back East”, I seem to recall spending a lot of time in school learning about the American  Revolution and the Civil War, but westward expansion was practically a footnote. As an adult, I’ve always been eager to learn more about my adopted state — and for me, the best way to learn is not just by reading history books but by reading fiction that gives a feel, a taste, a grand sense of what a time period was truly like.

I couldn’t have asked for better as a newcomer to California than Wallace Stegner’s Angle of Repose. Framed as a story within a story, we see the main character in the 1960s researching his grandparents’ experiences a century earlier. Grandmother Susan was a refined young woman — a New Yorker — who became enamored of the glamor of westward exploration and discovery. Practically on a whim, she marries mining engineer Oliver and sets out on what she envisions as an adventure, not really grasping that she’s changing her entire life for good.

Angle of Repose presents a portrait of a bygone time through Susan’s letters as well as her narrative, always filtered through 20th century narrator Lyman’s perspective. We get the feel for the grittiness of the frontier, the hardships endured by those who forged ahead through the exploration of the West, the exhilaration of discovery as well as the culture shock of the more civilized Easterner forced to adapt to life in the harsh West.

The writing is challenging but very much worth the effort. The style takes some getting used to, but once you’re in the groove, it has a rough beauty that’s a real pleasure to experience. Here are two small snippets:

Susan Ward came West not to join a new society but to endure it, not to build anything but to enjoy a temporary experience and make it yield whatever instruction it contained. She anticipated her life in New Almaden as she had looked forward to the train journey across the continent — as a rather strenuous outdoor excursion…

Nothing on the trip to New Almaden next day modified her understanding that her lot at first would be hardship. It was intensely hot, the valley roads seen through the train windows boiled with white dust, Lizzie’s usually silent baby cried and would not be comforted. In San Jose a stage with black leather curtains waited; they were the only passengers. but her anticipation of a romantic Bret Harte stage ride lasted only minutes. Dust engulfed them…

My edition of Angle of Repose is 569 pages. Definitely not a light summer read! But if you’re willing to put in the time and have patience enough to ease your way through the first several chapters, you’ll find this book fascinating and rewarding — at least, I did, and I’m happy to recommend it. For a glimpse of the excitement and awful stress of the frontier, you can’t do much better than Angle of Repose.

Note from your friendly Bookshelf Fantasies host: To join the Flashback Friday fun, write a blog post about a book you love (please mention Bookshelf Fantasies as the Flashback Friday host!) and share your link below. Don’t have a blog post to share? Then share your favorite oldie-but-goodie in the comments section. Jump in!


Do you host a blog hop or book blog meme? Do you participate in a meme that you really, really love? I’m building a Book Blog Meme Directory, and need your help! If you know of a great meme to include — or if you host one yourself — please drop me a note on my Contact page and I’ll be sure to add your info!

2 thoughts on “Flashback Friday: Angle of Repose

  1. I came across this book on GoodReads some time ago, I think it was recommended to me after I had been asking around for a novel featuring some complex plotting and internal character drama. I could imagine that the writing can be challenging but the story sounds fantastic. I hope to get around to it sometime soon! 🙂

    My Friday Book Memes

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