Thea’s Review

Who wrote this book and when?
Wallace Stegner wrote it in 1943.

Has there been a movie made of it?
I don’t believe so.

Who are the main characters?
Elsa Mason – a strong but gentle woman who dreams of owning a home and being a part of a stable family
Bo Mason – a powerhouse man with big dreams of being rich, without to patience to get there legally
Chester “Chet” Mason – their oldest son, a natural athlete
Bruce Mason – their younger son, a natural thinker

What’s it about?
Trying to sum up this book would be like trying to sum up the entirety of someone’s life. But I’ll try.

We meet Elsa first, on her way away from home to escape from her family and the horror of her best friend marrying her father. She travels to the little town of Hardanger to live with her uncle and ends up marrying the town dandy – Bo Mason. He runs a blind pig (an illegal liquor store) and a bowling alley. Eventually, they have two children, Chet and Bruce. Bo is obsessed with getting very rich and living the good life. However, he only wants to take the quick route – he has no patience to work hard and save up money in a legal manner. The novel follows the family as they follow Bo in his attempts to reach the “big rock candy mountain” – the easy life, through one get rich quick scheme after another, finally landing in illegal liquor running and sales.

Why is this book a classic?
It not only describes in detail a family struggling through the Great Depression and Dust Bowl, but is a psychological exploration of the reasons for their actions as they pursue what they believe is theirs by right – the American Dream.

Why should I read this book?
Because stories teach you more about humanity in general, which in turn teaches you about yourself and those around you. This is a good teaching story.

Has it won any awards?
I don’t think so. Stegner is a Pulitzer Prize winner for another of his novels, “The Angle of Repose.”

Favorite Quotes:
“There had been a wind during the night, and all the loneliness of the world had swept up out of the southwest. The boy had heard it wailing through the screens of the sleeping porch where he lay, and he had heard the wash tub bang loose from the outside wall and roll on down the coulee, and the slam of the screen door, and his mother’s padding feet as she rose to fasten things down. Through one half-open eye he had peered up from his pillow to see the moon skimming windily in a luminous sky. In his mind’s eye he had seen the prairie outside with its woolly grass and cactus white under the moon, and the wind, whining across that endless oceanic land, sang in the screens, and sang him back to sleep.” – pg 185

“Oh lovely America, he said, you pulled the old trick on us again. You looked like the Queen of Faery, and your hair smelled of wind and grass and space, and your eyes were wild. Oh Circe, mother of all psycho-analysts, you can shut the gates of the sty now. We are all fighting for the trough, and the healing fiction is fading like a dream. Oh Margain, bane of all good knights, click the iron in the stone, for we know now that what we took for fairy was really witch, and it is time we planned our dungeon days while making friends with the rats and spiders. Oh Belle Dame sans Merci, do you enjoy our starved lips in the gloam? … Oh beautiful, he said, for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain, for purple mountains majesties, and penury, and pain.” – pg 462

Anything else?
This novel is semi-autobiographical, which just makes it so much more amazing. Plus, it was one of Stegner’s first novels. He wrote it when he was 34.

Personal thoughts:
I loved this book. I’d never heard of the author – and all I’d heard about the book was a brief “just read ‘Grapes of Wrath’.” Considering I’ve never been able to get into “Grapes of Wrath” past the first 2 sections, that wasn’t encouraging. But fortunately, I loved this book. I love stories about people’s lives which don’t seem to have a specific point – a moral point even…they just tell about a lifelong journey without prettying it up at all. I cared for each and every one of the main characters in this book, and while Stegner created their lives to be tragic and painful, I felt resolution by the end. Life isn’t meant to have a specific point. It just is. Bruce could never completely understand it, and that’s what made it not completely tragic, but completely beautiful.