Stegner isn't a household name, though he should be. He had a long and prolific career, writing more than 30 books: novels, story collections, and non-fiction. His characters burrow into your heart, and Stegner's prose, as one critic put it, is "prismatic, lush and painterly." Don't miss this one.
A LitLovers LitPick (March '06)
Adding to a distinguished body of work that already has earned him a Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Awardand on the 50th anniversary of the publication of his first novel, Stegner's new book is an eloquent, wise and immensely moving narrative. It is a meditation on the idealism and spirit of youth, when the world is full of promise, and on the blows and compromises life inevitably inflicts. Two couples meet during the Depression years in Madison, Wis., and become devoted friends despite vast differences in upbringing and social status. Hard work, hope and the will to succeed as a writer motivate the penurious narrator Larry Morgan and his wife Sally as he begins a term teaching at the university. Equally excited by their opportunities are Sid Lang, another junior man in the English department, and his wife Charity. They are fortune's children, favored with intelligence, breeding and money. Taken into the Langs' nourishing and generous embrace, the Morgans have many reasons for gratitude over the years, especially when Sally is afflicted with polio and the Langs provide financial as well as moral support. During visits at the Langs' summer home on Battell Pond in Vermont and later sharing a year in Florence, the couples feel that they are "four in Eden." Yet the Morgans observe the stresses in their friends' marriage as headstrong, insufferably well-organized Charity tries to bully the passive Sid into a more aggressive mold. Charity is one of the most vivid characters in fiction; if she is arrogant, she is also kindhearted, enthusiastic, stalwart and brave—an ardent liver of life. Her incandescent personality is both the dominant force and the source of strain in the enduring friendship Stegner conveys with brilliant artistry. He is also superb at expressing a sense of place, and his intelligent voice makes cogent observations on American society in the decades of his setting. But most importantly, he speaks to us of universal questions, reflecting on "the miserable failure of the law of nature to conform to the dream of man." In doing so, he has created a believable human drama the dimensions of which reach out beyond the story's end and resonate in the reader's heart.
tStegner published his first novel 50 years ago. Since then he has won both a Pulitzer Prize (for Angle of Repose, 1971) and the National Book Award (for The Spectator Bird, 1976). His latest effort, an exploration into the mysteries of friendship, deserves similar accolades. With a quiet but strong hand, he traces the bond that develops between Charity and Sid Lang and Sally and Larry Morgan from their first meeting in 1937 through their eventual separation to their final get-together in 1972 when Charity is dying of cancer and is determined ``to do it right,'' no matter what anyone else thinks. It seems only appropriate that Charity bring them together since she has been the driving force behind the relationship. As we discover now, her bull-headedness has had its price. This is a wonderfully rich, warm, and affecting book. Highly recommended. —David W. Henderson, Eckerd Coll. Lib., St. Petersburg, Fla.
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