Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 251
Wallace Stegner's 1976 novel, The Spectator Bird, follows the marriage of Joe Allston and his wife, Ruth. They live as retirees in rural California. One day a postcard arrives to their home from a woman in Denmark, whom Joe and Ruth had stayed with during a trip following the death of their only son, Curtis. Joe describes himself as follows:
Young, middle-aged, or getting old, Joe Allston has always been full of himself, uncertain, dismayed, dissatisfied with his life, his country, his civilization, his profession, and himself (19)
He continues, "Alas, poor Allston. I knew him, Horatio. A fellow of infinite jest, but now strangely chapfallen" (18).
This introduces Joe as a disillusioned and implacable old man, who is, notwithstanding, self-aware.
When Joe is prompted to retrieve and reexamine a journal he kept in Denmark, his wife is taken aback: "You never told me you were keeping a journal then" (25). She proposes that they read it aloud together. She implores him, "Please? I think it might be good for us" (26). Allston himself comments:
you can live with someone a long time and not have more than a few moments as exposed and intimate as that one. Ruth's face was full of questions, but I couldn't see any hardening or accusation there" (26).
Here it is suggested that Ruth knows--and Joe knows that she knows--that this travel journal contains details heretofore kept secret from her. The lion's share of the novel is dedicated to the two of them re-examining their marriage, and thus making it stronger.
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