Angle of Repose, which won, in 1972, the Pulitzer Prize for Wallace Stegner, unites past and present in telling two stories: Lyman Ward’s history of his grandparents and his need to keep his identity and independence as he copes with his disability. Lyman, a historian forced to retire because of a debilitating disease, wants to write about the marriage of his grandparents, Oliver Ward and Susan Burling Ward, an author, artist, and illustrator. Oliver was an engineer and manager of mines, and Lyman’s history chronicles the couple’s settlement of the West in the late 1800’s. The title is taken from the geological term meaning the angle at which dirt, pebbles, and sand no longer roll.
Through Susan’s letters to her friend Augusta, Lyman sketches out his grandparents’ life, filling in the areas with what he assumes must have happened. Susan, a young woman who is on the brink of entering New York society, shocks everyone when she marries Oliver Ward. Oliver moves to New Almaden, California, and Susan goes out to him later. Susan’s belief that her move to the West is temporary and her wish to be back in New York society make adjusting to her new life difficult. She finds the West vulgar and disappointing. In her isolation, Susan turns to drawing the unusual sights around her and writing short sketches, which she sells to help support the family.
During Oliver’s attempts to mine and irrigate the West, he and Susan live in New...
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