Sunday, December 25, 2011

I think I'm a stegnersaur

Most novels are about love or betrayal or both. So it has been refreshing to read Wallace Stegner these past few months. I picked him up because he’d been a neighbor of ours decades ago when we lived in Silicon Valley, and my dad had mentioned that one of his novels featured an incident involving a houseguest of my parents’. I wanted something to talk with my parents about besides doctor visits and groceries and politics—the first two because they’re objectifying and the third because I can’t keep up.

But reading Stegner has had intrinsic pleasures too. I know much of the geographical terrain of “All the Little Live Things” (Los Altos Hills) and “The Spectator Bird” (Denmark). And I know some of the emotional terrain of “Crossing to Safety,” a fictional memoir of friendship and marriage, and I can vouch for their authenticity. 

And—uniquely, in my reading experience—they skirt sex almost entirely. Other says sex is the driving force behind every human activity. And judging from popular culture, he’s got a lot of company. I disagree. Call me prim and old-fashioned, but I feel driven by other forces. And it’s comforting to have so strong an ally in Stegner, who explores intergenerational friendship, intellectual fanaticism, and long and loyal marriages, and finds in them as much drama as the tawdriest tale.

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