Monday, November 03, 2014


Wallace Stegner has been an uneven novelist for this reader. I first read his 1943 historical The Big Rock Candy Mountain, a book I could not put down. The Preacher and the Slave, about Joe Hill and the Wobblies was also riveting. A couple others left me either bored or less than enraptured.

He was a great writer both in craft and the conveying of emotion, but sometimes I feel he tried too hard, even to the point of preaching his message too obviously. In A Shooting Star he went overboard on wordiness, his story arc took too long to arc, and while he tried hard to understand his female protagonist, a judgmental flavor spoiled the result.

I've had a time reading my 1961 list, as it has featured many long books and some weaker books by authors I have previously admired. However, as harbingers of cultural change to come, especially the sexual revolution of the late 60s and the second wave of feminism in the 70s, many of these novels are examples of how writers had their fingers on the pulse of change before it became apparent in mainstream culture.

Sabrina Castro, raised in a deeply screwed up but fabulously wealthy family, married a physician. As her husband became successful with rich matrons in Los Angeles, he began to neglect Sabrina. Because she was not able to conceive a child, she was restless, unfulfilled, and lonely. What does a woman in such straights do? She takes a lover. Thus the drama begins.

And goes on and on. Stegner creates tension with Sabrina's indecision about her marriage, her husband (a sanctimonious jerk), and her future. I am fully aware that female dithering is commonplace. I have been guilty of it myself. Reading about it drives me to distraction.

So OK, he gets that aspect of female life and it is in the 1950s when a woman could not easily go outside of accepted societal norms, no matter how rich she was, but it still went on too long. I also detected whiffs of Freudian concepts about females suffering from infantile behavior. Yuck! A woman working through issues with a messed up mother is not infantile, she is working through issues.

Bottom line: worth reading as a sign of the times; maddening that it took me six days to do so.

(A Shooting Star is available by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

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