cover image Marking the Sparrow's Fall: Wallace Stegner's American West

Marking the Sparrow's Fall: Wallace Stegner's American West

Wallace Earle Stegner. Henry Holt & Company, $25 (359pp) ISBN 978-0-8050-4464-5

Showcasing a talent often as breathtaking as the landscape that was Stegner's lifelong muse, this first posthumous essay collection by the novelist, historian and biographer who died in 1993 confirms his rank as one of the American West's preeminent literary champions. Though some of Stegner's most celebrated work is included among these 23 essays and one novella (all written between 1948 and 1992), many are little-known items culled from magazines and journals. Even in more obscure pieces, such as a travelogue describing the Great Salt Lake originally published in 1957 in Holiday magazine, readers will find the themes that Stegner used in his fictional efforts to save the American frontier from becoming irrevocably commodified. ""Aridity"" as the great cultural forge is an overarching motif here, but the writing is never dry. ""Who built the West as a living-place, a frugal, hard, gloriously satisfying civilization scrabbling for its existence against the forces of weather and a land as fragile as it is demanding was not rugged individualists but cooperators, neighbors who knew how to help out in a crisis,"" he writes in ""Land: America's History Teacher,"" a brilliant overview of frontier land ""disposal"" since the 18th century. In ""At Home in the Fields of the Lord,"" he says of Salt Lake City, ""Having blown tumble-weed fashion around the continent so that I am forced to select a hometown, I find myself selecting the City of the Saints."" Stegner is himself a contemporary saint to the modern conservation movement that, without him, ""would still be trying to mine quotable nuggets from Henry David Thoreau and Aldo Leopold,"" according to Page Stegner, his son and editor. Agent, Don Congdon Associates. (Sept.)