Book Ten: The Big Rock Candy Mountain

The Big Rock Candy Mountain, Wallace Stegner

I feel so bad when I gush over a book. I think a critical eye can be so much more interesting than one tainted by adoration. But I just cannot say a bad word about this novel. Every bit of it is exactly what writing should be. Now, this is truly effortless writing (I'm looking at you, Patti Smith): the kind that appears effortless so much so that you don't even notice the words coming off the page. They just are and the story just is and then, before you know it, you realize that you are enjoying every minute of it. Yeah yeah, gush gush gush. But honestly, we all know that Wallace Stegner is a genius. We've all read Angle of Repose (right? right??) and we all say he's one of our favorite writers. But for the best of reasons because he just is.

This is essentially an autobiography of Stegner's own life. Which could be dangerous territory (this was written less than 10 years after his father died, when he was still a young man and a young writer), but he turns it into something magical. The story starts with his young parents, running from their own tragedy-filled childhoods and finding each other in a lonely North Dakota down, and even though they are so very obviously wrong for each other they are sadly attracted to each other. Here's the point where you want to yell out to young Elsa, "Run! Leave! Do NOT marry this man! This is a VERY BAD idea!" But Elsa does not listen to you, and instead marries Bo Mason and follows him from town to town, job to job, one scheme to another for the rest of their unfortunate lives. They have two sons and as they grow up we start to see the story from their perspectives, too. And that's the beauty of the book. It's told in the third person, and yet you get the perspective of each of the family members, so your sympathies are constantly shifting. Even Bo, who is clearly a terrible father, feels sympathetic at times. Like, he's doing the best he can. And then, when we see Elsa's perspective, we realize again that his best isn't very good at all.

The story is at times thrilling and nail-biting, at times slowly ponderous and gorgeous, at times so sad I may just have sat reading while bawling violently (or that just might be the pregnancy hormones). But it was never dull. Wallace Stegner, you are my hero.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home