I think it would be a natural tendency while reading A SHOOTING STAR by Wallace Stegner to think it was overwritten, to think perhaps this is a story that could be told in a much more pithy fashion with much less verbiage and much less interior conversations that is conversations a character has within their own mind.
Sabrina Castro, the titular heroine of STAR is almost completely unlikable. A wealthy woman from an old money family married to a society doctor at the beginning of the book, she quickly enters into a downward spiral starting with an affair she had had immediately before the start of the book. She separates from her husband and moves back in with her frail, elderly megawealthy mother with whom she’s had a distant, antagonistic relationship with in the past. After that, she suffers several further degradations although not as many as are implied by the blurb on the back cover of the book.
Stegner counters the navel gazing, selfish, frustrating antics of Sabrina with the story of her best friend who married and settled down as well as Sabrina’s older brother’s machinations in getting his hands on the many acres of land still under the control of her mother.
These sideplots are not as interesting. What is interesting about this book is Stegner’s absolute totalist eye for detail. He sees everything in a scene and is able to make the reader see it too. I also commend him for spinning a readable entertaining yarn out of what on the surface seems like something I would not normally be interested in. Stegner is a great writer – my review of his masterpiece BIG ROCK CANDY MOUNTAIN is here http://rgdinmalaysia.blogspot.com/2009/04/big-rock-candy-mountain-by-wallace.html
Here’s a passage from A SHOOTING STAR where it sums up succinctly the mindset of Sabrina, what is driving her, the explanation for this is less clear.
If B stood for boredom, N for Neglect, D for a do-nothing tradition I for instability, T for time, and C for conscience then
(B₂+N)T+1+D = X, for explosion
But what about the violence of her collapse, for which there was not only no adequate motivation but very real and puritanical inhibitions? What if, a normally intelligent, highly fortunate, reasonably sophisticated woman, you suddenly blew to bits, and nothing set you off but accident, and nothing steered you from then on but furious uncharacteristic feelings like those that must drive the she-murderers of the newspapers? What if all unexpectedly you found yourself vulgar, hysterical, spiteful, and uncontrolled? What if one hour you were frantic with lust for one man, and the next anguished with pity and duty for another, and the next wild with revenge against them both, and all the time full of desperate loathing for yourself? What if your metabolism, personality, mind, changed suddenly as if you had been fed a horrible mess of personality-changing drugs, Miltown and Benzedrine, bolts and jolts, Spanish fly and whatever it was they were supposed to put in the men’s food in the army-saltpeter?