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Angle of Repose ()

San Francisco Chronicle Top 100 Novels of the West (1)

This 1971 Pulitzer Prize Winner tells the story of the first 14 years of marriage of one of the couples who built the American West. Lyman Ward is a 58 year old professional historian. He's suffered through the loss of a leg and the flight of his wife of 25 years & now he's returned to his family homestead, Zodiac Cottage in Grass Valley, CA to write the biography of his grandmother, Susan Burling Ward, a minor author and artist of the West. She came from the East in 1876 to be with her new husband Oliver Ward, a mining engineer. Lyman proceeds to chronicle their lives until disaster strikes the couple & essentially ends the marriage, although they stay together for another 50 years, having attained an "Angle of Repose".

I had two big problems with this book, which is essentially a dandified Michener. The first is that I hated Lyman Ward, the narrator. Perhaps it is a function of writing in the early seventies, the great wasteland in American culture, but the lives, concerns and conversations of Lyman and the people around him are excruciating. The second problem was that I thought Susan Burling Ward deserved to be horsewhipped. She spends the first part of the book madly in love with one of her girlfriends and then falls in love with her husband's best friend. Meanwhile, she meddles in Oliver's career choices repeatedly & then agonizes over the dead ends that career runs into time and again.

I'd give this one an extremely qualified recommendation & suspect it would appeal more to women.


Grade: (C)