The Big Rock Candy Mountain
by Wallace Stegner, 1942
Blackstone Audio, 2010
narrated by Mark Bramhall
25 hours 41 minutes
In a nutshell:
Based largely on his own childhood, Stegner has created a masterful, harrowing saga of a family trying to survive during the lean years of the early 20th century. It is the conflict between the hardscrabble existence and Bo's pursuit of the frontier myth and of the American dream that gives the book such resonance and power. (from publisher)
My appreciation for Wallace Stegner grows every time I read (or listen to) one of his novels. The Big Rock Candy Mountain, a family saga simply told with dignity and honesty, features writing that is startling beautiful and, at times, even haunting.
Stegner writes of family relationships and dynamics with amazing acuity. I was not surprised to learn this is considered his most autobiographical novel. Stegner's love of nature, the outdoors and the American west is evident in the stunning physical descriptions of the land. I was also quite taken with his thoughts on home, roots and permanence. In fact, I ended up borrowing the book from the library to reread a several passages.
"You had to stay in a place to make it a home. A home had to be lived in every day, every month, every year for a long time, till it was worn like an old shoe and fitted the comfortable curvatures of your life." (page 236)I won't go into the plot (this is one to experience for yourself) but The New Yorker called it "A well-written study of a footloose family.. Stands out beautifully and unforgettably."
Stegner won the Pulitzer Prize in 1971 for Angle of Repose. Crossing to Safety, his final novel written in 1987, may just be my all-time favorite book. The Big Rock Candy Mountain, in addition to being an excellent novel, provides valuable insight into the writer's life.
Notes on the audio production:
It took a few moments to remember why Mark Bramhall's voice sounded so familiar. Finally, I recognized him as the narrator of Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates. Again, it took some time to get used to his voice, but Bramhall is an excellent reader. My only complaint (the same one I had with Revolutionary Road) is that I found his 'female voice' annoyingly sappy. It seemed to impart a 'spineless doormat' feeling to the character, but, in all fairness, there were times when this characterization was right on the mark.
Bottom line: If you are ready to make the time commitment, Stegner's most autobiographical novel will not disappoint. It is beautiful, haunting and insightful.