by Wallace Stegner
Wallace Stegner is known as one of the West's greatest writers. I had read his non-fiction, and thought I'd introduce myself to his fiction with this Pulitzer Prize winning novel. Confined to a wheelchair in a house built by his grandparents, Oliver and Susan Ward, historian Lyman Ward sorts through Susan’s letters and documents in an effort to find her story, and to discover something about his own life. This is a novel of the West and about the tensions of settlement that play out between Oliver and Susan Ward. While Susan is an artist who wants to replicate an Eastern high culture in the West, Oliver is at home among the Western male dominated society with rough edges and lack of civility. While Oliver wants to create mine and irrigation improvements that will allow him to change dry Western prairies, deserts and mountains into the lush green gardens common back East, Susan loves the Western wilderness and laments its destruction. The desires of both are set against the harsh living of Western grandeur and landscapes, and ultimately crumble under the impossible weight of expectations. The search for fortune and prosperity leads Oliver and Susan all over the West: New Almaden, Santa Cruz, Leadville, Michoacán, and Idaho. Ultimately, this same search leads to their separation and reunion. In this reunion, Lyman Ward finds the greatest mystery and frustration, wondering how and why such a separation in his own life can be reconciled, and feeling how the progress and mistakes of the past echo to the present day.