Posted by: Kate | January 25, 2011

A Book Review; Angle of Repose

Last week I finished reading Wallace Stegner’s Angle of Repose. This book won the 1972 Pulitzer Prize for fiction and is still considered a great American novel.

The novel is really two stories in one. There is a main character, who is researching the life of his grandmother. The story of the main character moves in and out of the novel as he contemplates what he is learning about his grandmother’s life and as his life intrudes upon his ability to do his research. The story of the grandmother feels like the main story, although we begin and end with the original story teller.I am always left feeling a little befuddled by stories like this, as they make me feel like I don’t quite know which way to turn. Was I supposed to be more swept up in the grandmother’s extremely dramatic life story? Was I supposed to identify with the crippled main character and his personal struggles? I find the style unsettling and somehow unsatisfactory, and admittedly it also makes me feel a little inadequate, like I somehow just didn’t quite ‘get it’.

That being said, the writing in this novel is superb. I found myself again and again being jolted by turns of phrase and sentences that Stegner wrote. Sometimes they gave me pause as a reader, as they so cleverly revealed something about the characters, or somehow moved the story along. Sometimes the sentences struck me as a word lover, as they were so delicately crafted and so deliciously chosen. Stegner’s writing, in and of itself, is wonderful.

Perhaps to appreciate it is as a great American novel, one has to have been educated in the American system with all the history of the settlers, etc. I am familiar with the story, but it is not a part of who I am as a Canadian, our story of settlement and 19th century adventure is different. I can see though, that it has many similarities to other books I have heard called great American novels.

I can say that the writing is excellent, and certainly makes me want to read more of Stegner’s work. I’m open to recommendations if anyone is familiar with his books.


  1. thanks for the review! i’ve been hoping for a good book to start reading next!

  2. I read Stegner’s Crossing to Safety awhile ago, but it still resonates. He is one of the great authors.

  3. I love Angle of Repose, one of my all-time favorites. Fun story: I’ve read this in three different book clubs. It was very polarizing–people either loved it or hated it, which of course made for great discussion. In one group, one woman who loved it said she’d gotten it from the library but was going to buy her own copy, because she knew she’d want to read it again. A woman who hated it then tossed her a copy, saying, “Take mine, I stupidly bought it and will never read it again!”

  4. I have never read this book but it sounds interesting. I would put it in my library queue but I already have so many books sitting bedside my bed right now waiting patiently to be read. Too many books, not enough time. Sigh…..

  5. Ooo, it sounds intriguing, I’ll have to look it up next time at the library or bookstore. I delight in a well-written book, sometimes a little phrase makes me read it over & over, in awe. Why don’t I have that talent??? lol I know the English language, grammar, etc.! :-} (I hope you know I’m kidding).

  6. I`m not familiar with this author. I do tend to stick to Canadian lit but it sounds like it would be worth the read.

  7. Angle of Repose is actually one of my favorite books. I think it’s beautifully written and the characters drew me in completely (not always likable mind you, but fascinating just the same). It was the first Stegner I read and so was a bit afraid to pick up anything else…almost knowing I’d be disappointed. I did, however, finally read Crossing to Safety…which I believe is his most popular, most read novel. And honestly I was disappointed. The writing is equally beautiful, but I just couldn’t get drawn into the story…into the characters like I had with A of R. I haven’t read any more…although you writing this review makes me want to reread Angle of Repose…it’s been over a decade since I read it.

Welcome! I always like to hear what people think of a post, it often leads to a great discussion! I am now responding to comments and questions right in the comments themselves, so other people can follow the conversation.

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