Wallace Stegner: His Life and Work

Jackson J. Benson, Author Viking Books $32.95 (496p) ISBN 978-0-670-86222-1
When he was in his late 50s, Stegner (1909-1993) described himself, through a fictional character, as ""a tea bag left too long in the cup,"" but he lived into his 80s, dying in an auto accident in 1993. In his middle years three of his finest novels, Angle of Repose, The Spectator Bird and Crossing to Safety, were yet to come. Always associated with university writing programs, notably at Stanford, his was not a career from which it is easy to mine urgent biographical narrative. Yet Benson (The True Adventures of John Steinbeck, Writer) makes the most of Stegner's stark Saskatchewan childhood and felonious father, both of which later energized the ambitious epic Big Rock Candy Mountain (1943). Stegner's disappointment at his often tepid critical reception is a continuing motif. Asked by students what a Pulitzer Prize (which he would win in 1972) would mean to him, he scoffed: ""I'd drink a better brand of bourbon."" Yet he confided to a colleague that he had given up short fiction because ""you can't have a major reputation on the short story."" All of Stegner's considerable output, including histories, biographies and essays, evince a sensitivity for moral verities and the threatened land. Benson's admiring biography, begun with Stegner's cooperation, still reads disconcertingly in places as if his subject were alive. Still, the biography will help to solidify Stegner's place in the literature of his time. Illustrations not seen by PW. Author tour. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 11/04/1996
Release date: 11/01/1996
Paperback - 504 pages - 978-0-8032-2537-4
Ebook - 180 pages - 978-0-8057-1954-3
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