Saturday, April 11, 2009
BIG ROCK CANDY MOUNTAIN BY WALLACE STEGNER
BIG ROCK CANDY MOUNTAIN contains one of the best constructed character studies I have ever read….I am not saying this is necessarily one of the best characters in literature but in chronicling Harry “Bo” Mason from younger years to death, Wallace Stegner has so filled in the spaces of humanity with the real-life contradictions and quirks of a person of Bo’s energy, period of time, mindset, and childhood created personality that he has in effect given birth to a complete human being.
BIG ROCK CANDY MOUNTAIN is more than the study of Bo Mason though….Based on Stegner’s own family life growing up, it’s about the origins of rootlessness in American life, It’s about the idea of the get rich quick scheme rather than hunkering down and working a steady job, it’s about individual selfishness versus having a family, it’s about the transformation of America from a land of pioneers and over the next hill awaits opportunity to a land of towns and communities where people put down roots.
This is a beautifully written book….In particular, I like how Stegner starts each chapter in the middle of a certain period of time and them moves backwards and forwards to show what has happened to the characters since the last chapter and where they are going in the next chapter….It’s a great literary device I may steal for one of my own books one day.
This is a book with so many different themes but with characters that are complicated and difficult and not conventionally heroic be it Bo or his wife Elsa or their two sons Chet and Bruce…Despite the meticulous, almost poetic prose this is not an easy or conventional read which maybe accounts for why this book is not more well known.
Wallace Stegner was considered “The Dean of Western Writers”….That appellation was to differentiate between the wave of writers who appeared from places like Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado etc. as well as Southern Canada following Stegner’s success….While he won the Pulitzer Prize for his 1971 novel ANGLE OF REPOSE, I consider this his greatest work.
I think this quote from BIG ROCK CANDY MOUNTAIN sums it all up….
“People, he said, were always being looked at as points, and they ought to be looked at as lines. There weren’t any points, it was false to assume that a person ever was anything. He was always becoming something, always changing, always continuous and moving, like the wiggly lines on a machine used to measure earthquake shocks. He was always what he was in the beginning, but never quite exactly what he was; he moved along a line dictated by his heritage and his environment but he was subject to every sort of variation within the narrow limits of his capabilities.”