(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

All the Little Live Things consists of seven chapters, a prologue, and an epilogue. Set in the Bay Area of California, the novel plays out some of the generational conflicts of the 1960’s as a group of strong characters settle in wild, hilly country near San Francisco much like Los Altos Hills, where Wallace Stegner’s family lived for many years.

Joe Allston, a retired literary agent, and his wife Ruth have built a retirement home, where they hope to live quietly, mourning the recent death of their son, who drowned in the Southern California surf, perhaps deliberately. The 1960’s, as depicted in this novel, was not a good time to seek peace and quiet in this part of California. Into the neighborhood come first Jim Peck and then Marian Catlin, characters who in different ways challenge Joe Allston’s convictions. Jim Peck squats on a corner of the Allstons’ property and establishes a sort of commune.

Marian Catlin and her husband have come to find a sheltered place for Marian and their daughter to live while John conducts research in the North Pacific. As the Allstons soon learn, Marian is pregnant and suffering from breast cancer. Meanwhile, Tom Weld, the owner of most of the undeveloped property around the Allstons’ place, is busy bulldozing the hills to build more homes.

Allston finds himself at the center of bitter quarrels with Weld and Peck about the fate of this piece of land, which he frequently compares to the Garden of Eden, and in amiable disagreement...

(The entire section is 621 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Arthur, Anthony, ed. Critical Essays on Wallace Stegner. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1982. Two of the essays, those by Barnett Singer and Lois Phillips Hudson, treat aspects of All the Little Live Things.

Benson, Jackson J. Wallace Stegner: His Life and Work. New York: Viking, 1996. A fine biography; chapters 16 and 17 treat the connection between this novel and events in Stegner’s life.

Hepworth, James R. “Wallace Stegner’s Practice of the Wild.” In Wallace Stegner and the Continental Vision, edited by Curt Meine. Washington: The Island Press, 1997. Hepworth studies environmental concerns in several novels, including this one.

Robinson, Forrest G., and Margaret G. Robinson. Wallace Stegner. Twayne United States Authors Series. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1977. An excellent survey of Stegner’s work through the mid-1970’s. Chapter 5 treats this novel in some detail.