Wallace Stegner Essay - Wallace Stegner Short Fiction Analysis

Wallace Stegner Short Fiction Analysis

Of the eighteen stories in The Women on the Wall, almost half are concerned with incidents in the life of Brucie, a young boy growing up in Saskatchewan in the later years of the second decade of the twentieth century. In these semirelated stories, strongly rooted in time and place, Wallace Stegner is in complete control of his material and writes with insight and understanding which never lapse into sentimentality. The Brucie stories revolve around relatively commonplace subjects: the trapping of a gopher, the slaughtering of a sow, a family picnic.

“Two Rivers”

“Two Rivers,” an O. Henry second-prize winner in 1942, is characteristic. The action is simple. Following an unhappy Fourth of July (the failure of the family’s dilapidated Ford and the subsequent missed ball game in Chinook, the missed parade and fireworks, climaxed by the cuff on the ear from his father), the family set off for a picnic. Very little actually happens in this effective account of family relations, but at the story’s end the reader shares Brucie’s quiet pleasure:The boy looked up at his father, his laughter bubbling up, everything wonderful, the day a swell day, his mother clapping hands in time to his father’s fool singing (an impromptu song about “a kid and his name was Brucie”). “Aw, for gosh sakes,” he said, and ducked when his father pretended he was going to swat him one.

“Beyond the Glass Mountain”

In his stories about adults, Stegner’s vision is considerably darker. Life was essentially good for a boy in 1917, he suggests; for an adult in the 1940’s, it is likely to be just the opposite. “Beyond the Glass Mountain” (like “Two Rivers,” the recipient of an O. Henry Award, second-prize, 1948) is characteristic. The narrative is structurally simple, uncluttered, and admirably economical: an account of a few moments during the reunion of two men who had been close friends during their college days. The narrator, “prepared for nostalgia,” finds his friend to be a pathetic alcoholic, irreparably damaged by the passing of time and a destructive marriage. (For the “love of...

(The entire section is 884 words.)