Friday, June 10, 2011

The Big Rock Candy Mountain by Wallace Stegner (audio)

The Big Rock Candy Mountain
by Wallace Stegner, 1942
Blackstone Audio,  2010
narrated by Mark Bramhall
25 hours 41 minutes

source: purchased

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 thoughts:
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 ReposeCrossing 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.

My rating:

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.


  1. This was my book clubs very first book. We're on book number 129 now. I remember thinking it was loosely based on my own family because so much of it matched what I know of my father's parents.

  2. Oh, I really liked him reading REVOLUTIONARY ROAD, maybe I'll have to check this out.

  3. I own a few books by Stegner. He is wonderful, but I haven't tried an audio. (Glad u liked this one JoAnn).

  4. I'm so glad you liked this book! I thought it was wonderful. I love how you described the story and Stegner's writing.
    I enjoyed Stegner's books so much, I'm kind of sad I read them all!

    I'm thinking I might try an audio copy of this book or possibly Angle of Repose

  5. Stegner on audio -- must give it a try!

  6. C.B. James - Sounds like your book club has been together as long as mine! So many of our grandparents lead such colorful lives ... perhaps stories like this aren't as uncommon as we may think. Glad Stegner was able to record his.

    Jen - Yes, he's a great narrator. Hope you decide to check this out.

    Diane -No surprise we agree, but I love Stegner, too. I bought another of his novels at Strand Books last weekend (A Shooting Star) - hadn't heard of it, but I'm willing to take a chance.

    Amy - I recently got the audio of Crossing to Safety, a novel I've already read and loved. Like I told Diane above, I bought a copy of A Shooting Star last weekend. What did you think of that one?

    Beth F - Yes, do! I have Crossing to Safety on audio, too... I LOVE that one.

  7. I'm so sold on this one. In fact, I'm going to make a list of audio that I must listen to and this is the first one!

  8. I have been wondering abt another Stegner novel to pitch to book club and it seems I keep seeing his name everywhere! I think I would like his writing.

  9. Staci - I hope you like it. Stegner is such a great writer - this is an amazing story!

    Care - Stegner's writing is wonderful. You might want to try Crossing to Safety, too. I absolutely love that one.

  10. I haven't tried Stegner yet but this one looks good. Not sure I could handle the audio though. I can't stand it when a male narrator has a bad voice for women characters. Tends to ruin those characters for me!

  11. stacybuckeye - You may want to go for the print version then, but I do think you'd like this one. Stegner is amazing!


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