Sep 02, 11
every single person who breathes
Read in September, 2011
I loved this book even more the second time around. In my opinion, this is the perfect novel. I don't have the expertise to identify the exact narration technique, but to have the narrator, Lyman Ward, not only share his beloved grandparent's 100 year-old history from his 20th century perch, providing both redemptive hindsight and worrisome foreshadowing when needed, but also his own story as an amputee with a debilitating bone disease bitterly protecting his lonely independence, furnishing the relevance and motive, is brilliant. I know many other authors must also do this. It's probably considered common by those in the know within the world of literature. However, I read a lot of novels and I can't think of a single book I've ever read that has done it better than Wallace Stegner in Angle of Repose.
Angle of Repose dramatizes the life of Susan Burling Ward, a talented illustrator raised in an Eastern Quaker home, and her marriage to Oliver Ward, a kind, intelligent but tragically unlucky engineer trying to make a name for himself in the West. Through Susan and Oliver's first fourteen years together, the reader travels to mining camps in California, Colorado and Mexico, and eventually to pre-Statehood Idaho, painting an absolute masterpiece of American West history. Although Lyman Ward is a fictional character in a fictional novel, his passionate defense of the importance of history, could and should be well quoted by actual scholars in the field. Even his short but wonderfully persuadable argument against communal economics and relationships should be studied. They are that profound.
But, as the narrator states, this is really a story about marriage. What allows certain couples, who universally tumble down life's uncertain slope together, to reach a point where the tumbling stops? For rocks and debris in the engineering realm, it's called the angle of repose. There is an eventual stillness, for good or for bad, when the motion or hurt or progress or momentum stops. Perhaps it is balance and harmony. Or, perhaps it is staleness, stubbornness and unrelenting grudges. I'm sure the meaning of "angle of repose" could be presented either way. I lean towards the calm, comfortable stability definition but maybe the stationary rocks aren't content with their quiet.
I hope to return to this novel again and again. It's not a happy one. In many ways, there is a melancholy post-reading that I still can't shake. But, there is also a beauty in words, thoughts and vivid description that makes me clap for joy. I love this book.