Read it: “Angle of Repose”

I tend to walk into libraries (and even bookstores) with a list of books I plan to read only to become distracted by the first display shelf I see. Much easier to grab this book that the librarians have already plucked than to spend time searching the online catalog and shelves.

And so it went during my last trip to the library. I planned to use a few of your recommendations but instead brought home “Angle of Repose” by Wallace Stegner. The title helped sell it; I’m still turning those words over in my head. Angle of repose. Angle of repose.

This is a story for women, though I’m sure men would enjoy it, too. I expected a novel about the West — cowboys and cabins — but this is foremost a depiction of marriage. Much of the book is told from the perspective of a woman who is a writer and artist and a feminist to boot. She marries an engineer who dreams of building the West and has little use for words. They love each other but are a complete intellectual mismatch.

The story is set in the 1800s and was written in 1971, but the themes remain valid. How do two people compromise when their dreams take them in different directions? How do you decide when a dream needs to be pushed aside for the sake of practicality? I became increasingly frustrated with the wife’s choices as I read and kept having to remind myself that she was trapped by the conventions of that time period.

It’s rare that I find such a nuanced depiction of marriage. No happy American endings here, but a book with such an honest portrayal of human relationships has no need to take the easy way out.

One thought on “Read it: “Angle of Repose”

  1. My mother’s book group loved this novel – it was their top read after a decade of reading together. Despite this (because of this?) it took me a least a decade and two false starts to make it through this novel. I was so glad I finally did, and agree with much of your description. I would add, though, that because of the way it’s framed by a “modern” narrator in the 1970’s, the book deals deeply with themes of liberation and repression, and the struggle against limitations, be they physical or circumstantial.
    This is definitely a book that sticks with you, and that I think will bear rereading. I’m sure I’ll find new elements to appreciate as I age.

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