Monday, September 7, 2015
Say what you mean.
I'm not a total Pollyanna. I want you to know that. I'm not really even a little bit of a Pollyanna - I recently had someone tell me I'm one of the most negative people he knows, which I've chosen to take as an extremely backhanded compliment because fuck that dude, but for all of that I really wanted Angle of Repose to have something of a happy ending.
I mean, I know the chances of that happening with a Pulitzer Prize winning novel are pretty damned low but it's not impossible. Look at Maus - that book is depressing as fuck but still manages to be hopeful. Stegner doesn't even give us hope, he gives us hope for hope, which feels a little bit like getting cheated after investing as much into the characters as he does.
That's kind of the reason that the novel is amazing - I honestly give a shit about pretty much everyone who Stegner introduces us to. I feel sympathy for them, I want them to have good lives and happiness and easy summer mornings and instead Stegner just keeps kicking his audience in the balls by denying his characters the easy life that would cheapen their stories.
It was easy to sink into this story, easy to read through Lyman Ward's frustration and want to cuddle and protect him the way he wanted to cuddle and protect the people whose lives he was exploring. It's hard to take a lot of the novel seriously, though. Shelly Rasmussen, the braless hippie who so offends Lyman's delicate sensibilities, is probably the rightest character in the story. Everyone else gets torn to pieces by their hangups, Shelly is the only one questioning if accepting those hangups is wise. Shelly gets shit on a lot by Lyman but I think Stegner likes her better than his grouchy narrator lets on - Stenger isn't as much a dinosaur as Lyman, and Lyman isn't as much a gargoyle as he pretends. The modern characters in this historical novel are as fraught with pretending as their predecessors and that seems to be the major message here - it's better to be honest than to be miserable.
Stegner, Wallace. Angle of Repose. Penguin Publishing. New York: New York. 1992. (1971).