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A Powerful Tale
Written by
Sheila Grinell
August 2017
Written by
Sheila Grinell
August 2017

When a friend asked, "What's your all-time favorite novel?" I answered without hesitation Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner. She asked, "Why?" and I realized I couldn't answer on the spot. I will explain here.

The story is narrated by a retired professor fighting a debilitating disease. He decides to research his grandparents, Victorian-era Americans settling in the West. We follow Susan and Oliver Ward to several states where he struggles to work on infrastructure projects (he's an engineer) and she writes and illustrates stories for newspapers back East. The book begins and ends with the narrator talking trash about hippies--and his own demons.

[Angle of repose: steepest angle at which a pile of loose materail remains stable.]

Why do I love this book? Aspects speak to my personal history: I am fascinated by geology; I identify with pioneers; I lived in Berkeley in the late 1960s; I resonate with unadorned prose. But the source of its hold on me, I have to say, is Stegner's art. As Susan Ward's dilemmas wormed their way into my heart, I was forced to re-think what I thought I knew about how the West was won. The book gave me fresh eyes.

I hope you have a beloved novel. Thank you for reading about mine.

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