Monday, June 4, 2012

Audio Archive: The Big Rock Candy Mountain

June is Audiobook Month.  Regular readers of Lakeside Musing know my love of audiobooks has been well-chronicled over the years. In celebration of Audiobook Month, I will post a review from my audio archives each Monday. This week I begin with The Big Rock Candy Mountain by Wallace Stegner, originally reviewed 6/10/11. Keep up with all Audiobook Month activities on twitter by following #JIAM2012.

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 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.

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. High praise, indeed. I need to get a copy of this, though I may see if the library has an audio version, or will get one for me, as I do like the audio format for books like this.

    Sounds marvelous--I was blown away by Stegner's prose in Angle of Repose, and have Crossing to Safety on my short-term TBR shelf.

    >Stegner's love of nature, the outdoors and the American west is evident in the stunning physical descriptions of the land.

    I'm a westerner, and I felt such vindication in my love of the west in Stegner's descriptions.

    1. JaneGS - Stegner is a personal favorite. His descriptions always make me wish I could claim western roots. Can't wait to hear what you think of Crossing to Safety. I'm long overdue for a reread.

  2. I will try to remember to search for this book at the library. Good writing is always a pleasure to read.

    1. Harvee - There aren't many writers I would put in Stegner's league. He is an American treasure.

  3. I need to read this. Stegner's Angle of Repose is on my all-time best-of lists. I reread it every few years. In fact, I'm about due for a reread now...

    1. Amy - I'd suggest Crossing to Safety, too. It is a stunning novel!

  4. This is one that I already had on my list because I have been going through your back posts to help choose my next audio book!!

    1. Staci - It always takes me a little longer to settle into Mark Bramhall's narration, but he is definitely a favorite. My reread of Crossing to Safety will be on audio.

  5. I'm going to re-read all of Wallace Stegner's books at some point. I loved all of them and was so sad when there were no more left for me to read!

    Big Rock Candy Mountain is a beautifully written book with fascinating characters. I thought Elsa was nuts when it came to Bo...
    I wondered while reading this book, which parts were similar to Stegner's life and how similar. There are several, scary, unpleasant situations...
    (I'll stop now or else I might go on and on and on.... lol)
    Thank you for remindin me about this book!

    My favorite of Stegner's books are still Crossing to Safety followed by Angle of Repose

    1. Amy - I'm going to reread Stegner, too. Will try audio next time around for Crossing to Safety... that one is my favorite!


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