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All the Little Live Things
by Wallace Earle Stegner


Joe Allston, the retired literary agent of Stegner's National Book Award-winning novel, The Spectator Bird, returns in this disquieting and keenly observed novel. Scarred by the senseless death of their son and baffled by the engulfing chaos of the 1960's, Allston and his wife, Ruth, have left the coast for a California retreat. And althought their new home looks like Eden, it also has serpents: Jom Peck, a messianic exponent of drugs, yoga, and sex; and Marian Catlin, an attractive young woman whose otherworldly innocence is far more appealing - and far more dangerous. "A novel of crackling vividness." The New York Times Book Review.


From: Sherry Keller shkell@starband.net Date: Sunday, June 15, 2003 10:41 AM Stegner is the undisputed master of writing descriptions of California. I am transported to another time and place instantly -- through smell, sight, feel and sound. His main character, Joe Allston, is a crusty, cynical, almost life-defeated man who is trying to carve out a piece of paradise in the California hills with his wife Ruth. Things keep encroaching on him--neighbors who have sold their land to development, a drifter who asks permission to camp on his land, then takes his inch, plus the proverbial mile. But the most dangerous encroachment of all comes in the form of a young woman whom he instantly falls in love with in the manner of a mother falling in love with her new-born. She is the daughter he never had and his emotional opposite. She loves life to the extreme, even bugs and weeds. My question is: did you, the reader, understand this love? Did Stegner show the reality of it, and did you buy it? Personally, I didn't quite understand it. By the end of the book I felt it, but I was in doubt up until that time. What did you think? Sherry
Topic: All the Little Live Things -- Wallace Stegner (2 of 41), Read 62 times Conf: Reading List From: Pres Lancaster plancast@neteze.com Date: Sunday, June 15, 2003 01:50 PM "Stegner is the undisputed master of writing descriptions of California. I am transported to another time and place instantly -- through smell, sight, feel and sound." - SHERRY So very true; the verisimilitude is breathtaking. The character Allston is real, too. But I have no answer for Sherry's question because I didn't read the book. Allston's character, reverberating with reality, so put my teeth on edge that I walked away from knowing him. The clarity of his self depiction seems like a crystal that is all knife like edges. pres "We're not saying you don't have to fight because sometimes you do have to fight," he said. "But you don't have to fight forever." - Reo Hatfield
Topic: All the Little Live Things -- Wallace Stegner (3 of 41), Read 65 times Conf: Reading List From: Dale Short dshort@bham.rr.com Date: Sunday, June 15, 2003 10:03 PM Sherry: I'm about two-thirds through the book and can't comment in totality yet, but it seems to me your question about Joe's crush on Marian goes to the heart of this thing in a major way. In the meantime, it so happens that I unwittingly chose Father's Day to read the portion consisting of Joe's letter to Marian about the long emotional war ending in his son's death, and it ripped my heart out. What a virtuoso piece of writing, and one I know I'll be going back to later when the wound of it is a little less fresh. Stegner's eloquence and fierce intelligence and old-fashioned-by-today's-standards worldview, on display like quiet fireworks...and all, as Pres so deftly puts it, The clarity of his self depiction...like a crystal that is all knife-like edges. I can't recall any other tragic father-son relationship set down in such clear-eyed terms. I think it may take me a day or so to recuperate and press forward with this beautiful and intense novel. >>Dale in Ala. http://www.writerstoolkit.com
Topic: All the Little Live Things -- Wallace Stegner (4 of 41), Read 57 times Conf: Reading List From: Sherry Keller shkell@starband.net Date: Monday, June 16, 2003 07:02 AM That letter was the best part of the book, I think, Dale. It showed Joe truly himself, with his wounds wide open. Of course, no one ever saw the letter, (except us), and that says a lot about Joe right there. Sherry
Topic: All the Little Live Things -- Wallace Stegner (5 of 41), Read 57 times Conf: Reading List From: Mary Ellen Burns smeburns@yahoo.com Date: Monday, June 16, 2003 12:58 PM I thought one of the saddest things about Joe's relationship with his son was that it left him bitter and perpetually self-justifying. As a result, when he had another opportunity with Jim Peck, and he blew it, and he knew he blew it. And it seemed that Jim had much more potential for relationship than his son had. He was wild and irresponsible but he also had a perseverance that Joe's son lacked. (Wasn't it a shock to learn that his son was 37 when he died, not just a young kid?) The first word I'd use to describe Joe is angry--anger always seething beneath the surface waiting for the slightest provocation to set it off. I found the description of his hunting the moles (once killing a mole, once killing a snake eating the mole he himself was hunting) pretty chilling, particularly because he didn't say, "I'm killing this mole because it's a pest and I want to have my tomatoes for myself." No, he described the mole as a force of evil. He was so quick to ascribe evil to anyone (Peck) or anything that got in his way! I was uncomfortable with the Joe-Marian relationship. It was just too much. By the time Joe was trying to force his opinions about Marian's treatment on her and her husband, I was amazed by both his insensitivity and their forbearance. I understand that they all were seeking connections otherwise missing from their lives--the respective child and parents they never had--but this triangle, or rectangle, seemed off-balance to me. Mary Ellen
Topic: All the Little Live Things -- Wallace Stegner (6 of 41), Read 66 times Conf: Reading List From: Dale Short dshort@bham.rr.com Date: Monday, June 16, 2003 01:31 PM Mary Ellen: I was also taken aback by Joe's unsolicited advice on Marian's medical care. That kind of situation would be uneasy ground even for a family member to comment on, much less a fairly new acquaintance as Joe was. Presumptuous and overbearing, definitely, but also just another facet of Joe's all-or-nothing approach to personal relations. On the other hand, I didn't see nearly the positive potential in young Peck that you did. In some ways, I thought he was almost as self-centered and self-destructive as Allston's son had been, and I believed any real relationship between them was DOA, even if Joe had been on his best behavior. The whole encounter was less a second chance (though Joe was tempted to see it as such) than rubbing salt in old wounds, to me. Or, maybe my age is showing. One of the strengths of a work like this, I think, is the diametric opinions it can bring out in its readers. How about a quick show of hands, as to whether Joe blew a chance at redemption with Peck? >>Dale in Ala. http://www.writerstoolkit.com
Topic: All the Little Live Things -- Wallace Stegner (7 of 41), Read 59 times Conf: Reading List From: R Bavetta Date: Monday, June 16, 2003 02:15 PM I found Peck pretty distasteful, and agree with those who thought there was no hope of that relationship's being a redemption of Joe's relationship with his son. I, too, found Joe's fixation on Marian to be kind of unhealthy. Too much of a muchness, as my grandmother used to say. Besides Stegner never set up this relationship so I could believe it. She and Joe had outlooks on life almost as diametrically opposed as Joe's and Peck's. The only explanation Stegner gives is that Marian had a "shining presence" or some such gobbledegoodle. This is a major flaw in the book. It's unfortunate it hits right at a central conceit. But I sure enjoy his writing. Loved his description of the California hills. Not quite my hills because farther north, but close. R
Topic: All the Little Live Things -- Wallace Stegner (8 of 41), Read 56 times Conf: Reading List From: Sherry Keller shkell@starband.net Date: Monday, June 16, 2003 05:33 PM I think the role of Peck in the book was to show Joe that no matter what he had done, he couldn't have succeeded with his son. I think he actually knew that intellectually, but it hadn't sunk into his emotional bones yet. Peck was a user. Sure he was young and (sort of) idealistic, but he didn't want a "relationship" with Joe, he just wanted free use of the land. He knew he was pushing the limit, and kept extending that limit, daring Joe to reel him. And as soon as Joe did reel him, he acted as if he were the one being put upon. I agree with Ruth about Marian. And that was the reason I asked my original question. I think the book is flawed because I just don't understand what it was about Marian that Joe so fell in love with. Her personality seemed grating to me, and Stegner only "told" us why Joe was drawn to her, he didn't make me feel it. I thought maybe I just missed something. Sherry
Topic: All the Little Live Things -- Wallace Stegner (9 of 41), Read 56 times Conf: Reading List From: Dale Short dshort@bham.rr.com Date: Monday, June 16, 2003 08:05 PM I cast my lot with those who felt Joe's crush on Marian to be one of the less successful aspects of an otherwise strong story. Interesting, because in SPECTATOR BIRD Stegner's theme was the crush that can develop between one married couple and another married couple, and I think he detailed the pros and cons of such a symbiotic relationship quite convincingly...including the huge downside when one of the magic four is tremendously controlling, a situation I've been in, in real life, and it ain't pretty. In the case of Joe/Marian, Joe is Smitten with a double-capital "S" and I think we're asked to take the wondrous nature of it on faith. No problem for me, as I've been Smitten with a double-etc., but I think if Stegner had laid the same type of emotional groundwork for the phenomenon that he did in SPECTATOR BIRD, ATLLT would have been a stronger book. >>Dale in Ala. http://www.writerstoolkit.com
Topic: All the Little Live Things -- Wallace Stegner (10 of 41), Read 54 times Conf: Reading List From: Sherry Keller shkell@starband.net Date: Tuesday, June 17, 2003 08:10 AM Are you sure you're not thinking of Crossing to Safety, Dale? I know there was a very controlling person in there (Charity?), but I can't remember Spectator Bird having that theme. I very well could have forgotten it though. Sherry
Topic: All the Little Live Things -- Wallace Stegner (11 of 41), Read 53 times Conf: Reading List From: Dale Short dshort@bham.rr.com Date: Tuesday, June 17, 2003 09:17 AM Uh-oh. You're right, Sherry, Crossing to Safety is the one I meant. My brain's getting to be a title-blender, these days. >>Dale in Ala. http://www.writerstoolkit.com
Topic: All the Little Live Things -- Wallace Stegner (12 of 41), Read 52 times Conf: Reading List From: Mary Ellen Burns smeburns@yahoo.com Date: Tuesday, June 17, 2003 12:43 PM Well, I see there are no Peck fans here, and I can't say I found him all that sympathetic myself. But I was thinking of the many times in the book in which, after a hostile encounter with Peck, Joe would ask himself if he could have done things differently. Generally he came out at Jim with all guns blazing, and afterward he'd contemplate whether a less hostile approach would have had a better result. I thought the Joe/Peck relationship was just Joe/Marian in reverse. I didn't think Peck as repulsive as Joe made him out to be; nor did I find Marian as attractive. Another yucky point of the Joe/Marian relationship: the number of references he made to her body's deformity as result of surgery. The only person Joe reacted to moderately, in this book anyway, was Ruth! What does that say? That she was the only one he saw as a real person? Or that he was bored? Mary Ellen
Topic: All the Little Live Things -- Wallace Stegner (13 of 41), Read 53 times Conf: Reading List From: R Bavetta Date: Tuesday, June 17, 2003 01:23 PM Or that he took her steadfastness for granted. R
Topic: All the Little Live Things -- Wallace Stegner (14 of 41), Read 52 times Conf: Reading List From: Pres Lancaster plancast@neteze.com Date: Tuesday, June 17, 2003 02:26 PM Or that he took her steadfastness for granted. - RUTH Meaning that his trust in her was absolute OR that her steadfastness was just another useful part of his relations with others ? pres
Topic: All the Little Live Things -- Wallace Stegner (15 of 41), Read 53 times Conf: Reading List From: R Bavetta Date: Tuesday, June 17, 2003 02:55 PM I dunno, Pres. Maybe both? R
Topic: All the Little Live Things -- Wallace Stegner (16 of 41), Read 51 times Conf: Reading List From: Sherry Keller shkell@starband.net Date: Tuesday, June 17, 2003 05:51 PM I don't think Joe's feeling for Marian was particularly unsettling, I just don't think it was set up very well. Ruth said Joe should have had six daughters instead of one son. I think Joe's feelings were fatherly, not a "crush" or sexual in any way. He needed a young person whom he could unleash his parental impulses upon. His son had stifled any feelings of success in the parent department. Marian was safer in one way, in that she returned his affection, but more dangerous in another, because she was dying. His intrusions on her medical decisions felt very much to me like a parent who wanted more control over a child because he thought he knew better--and he didn't want her to die. Sherry
Topic: All the Little Live Things -- Wallace Stegner (17 of 41), Read 50 times Conf: Reading List From: Dale Short dshort@bham.rr.com Date: Tuesday, June 17, 2003 06:11 PM His intrusions on her medical decisions felt very much to me like a parent who wanted more control over a child because he thought he knew better... Wow. I didn't pick up on this originally, Sherry, but your mention of it makes a light bulb go on in my brain. The frustrated parental impulse sure explains a number of aspects of the Joe/Marian relationship that had puzzled me as it was happening. >>Dale in Ala. http://www.writerstoolkit.com
Topic: All the Little Live Things -- Wallace Stegner (18 of 41), Read 49 times Conf: Reading List From: R Bavetta Date: Tuesday, June 17, 2003 06:33 PM I think you're on the right track, Sherry. However, I kept wondering if there wasn't something subliminally sexual about Joe's attraction to Marian, something he probably wasn't even aware of himself. There was all that going on about her body. R
Topic: All the Little Live Things -- Wallace Stegner (19 of 41), Read 47 times Conf: Reading List From: Sherry Keller shkell@starband.net Date: Wednesday, June 18, 2003 06:48 AM Well I think all people are attracted to young beautiful people, don't you? Maybe to reminisce longingly what we used to look and be like, to live vicariously a little. Joe was human and frustrated and living near a lively woman who had such strong ideas about life probably made him feel a bit melancholy and protective. Here was a woman who welcomed his fatherly advice, teased him when they disagreed, but had strong opinions, often the opposite of his. It must have engaged his mind and his emotions like nothing had in a long time. (I have to admit, I'm playing devil's advocate here a little.) It was devastating when her life was in danger, so he felt he had to say what he thought in order to save her (he sure wasn't able to save Curtis). What a blow--even the children who love him (as Curtis didn't seem to) leave him in the end. Sherry
Topic: All the Little Live Things -- Wallace Stegner (20 of 41), Read 46 times Conf: Reading List From: Ann Davey davey@tconl.com Date: Wednesday, June 18, 2003 11:55 PM I just finished this tonight and, while I don't think it is as strong as Crossing to Safety or Angle of Repose, I liked it. I guess I was willing to accept Joe's infatuation with Marion as a given. After all, who can explain love? Look around you. Joe found her beautiful, both in face and in spirit, and beauty is always attractive. I think there was an unacknowledged sexual component to his feelings, although he was also quite sincere in looking at her as a kind of daughter since any other kind of relationship was totally out of the question. Marian's generous acceptance of him was also very important to this man who had so much trouble accepting himself. I really detested Peck and questioned why Joe second guessed his treatment of him. Ann
Topic: All the Little Live Things -- Wallace Stegner (21 of 41), Read 43 times Conf: Reading List From: Sherry Keller shkell@starband.net Date: Thursday, June 19, 2003 07:16 AM I'm glad the attraction seemed natural to you, Ann. I didn't have too hard a time with it, but it was a question I wanted to pose. I was really moved by the ending. Sherry
Topic: All the Little Live Things -- Wallace Stegner (22 of 41), Read 47 times Conf: Reading List From: Dale Short dshort@bham.rr.com Date: Thursday, June 19, 2003 10:03 AM After all, who can explain love? Look around you. Ann, that strikes me as the perfect last line for a poem or a short story, or both. Now, all you've got to do is work backward to the beginning. {G} Seriously, I think your reference to Marian's "generous acceptance of" Joe is a major factor in that complicated attraction. And an ironic one, as she battled him tooth and nail on philosophy and world-view issues. How can somebody be accepting of us and yet diametrically opposed on nearly every issue, while another person might be of like mind on things and despite this the connection is not there? Marian was a good sparring partner for discussion, true, but that's only one facet of it, I think. I agree, ATLLT isn't my favorite Stegner, but the characters (not to mention the scene of the horse on the bridge; a little reminiscent of THE HORSE WHISPERER but much more grueling, I think) continue to linger in my mind after finishing. >>Dale in Ala. http://www.writerstoolkit.com
Topic: All the Little Live Things -- Wallace Stegner (23 of 41), Read 50 times Conf: Reading List From: Mary Ellen Burns smeburns@yahoo.com Date: Friday, June 20, 2003 12:55 PM Speaking of the scene with the horse on the bridge: clearly and powerfully written, and very horrible. Yet I was thinking, as I read it, what is this about? Why did Stegner put it in here? I found it gratuitous, but did anyone think Stegner was making a point with it? I was also haunted by his (thankfully, much briefer) description of Marian's dying. My reaction was similar to the one I've just described. I thought it was a bit too "dramatic" for Marian to be someone whose nervous system is not deadened by morphine. Again, I wondered why Stegner was stacking the deck in this particular way. It was bad enough that she was dying, after all! So I wondered what bigger point Stegner was making with this story, and my thoughts went to the frequent subject of debate between Joe and Marian: human effort to change nature. Joe's efforts were frequently thwarted, most spectacularly with regard to his son. But Marian's hopes for what nature would afford her -- the opportunity to fully "experience" death as the last, great experience, as well as to give life to her second child -- were also cruelly disappointed. Is this just a dark, pessimistic book: darned if you do, and darned if you don't? Or is it, with its lovely descriptions of nature, as well as the occasional delight found in human interactions, just advising us to seize whatever joy life presents as unexpected, and ephemeral, boons? Mary Ellen
Topic: All the Little Live Things -- Wallace Stegner (24 of 41), Read 54 times Conf: Reading List From: R Bavetta Date: Friday, June 20, 2003 01:18 PM That horse/bridge scene was horrifying, wasn't it? Perhaps it was there so Marian could learn something. She needed to go to the hospital, she was suffering. The horse was suffering, too, and it was in Marian's way. The quicker the horse was disposed of (by an act of man, not of nature) the quicker Marian could get to the hospital and relieve her own suffering. She couldn't help but want that horse shot. I, too, found the fact that painkillers didn't work with Marian just a little too convenient. And hard to believe, surely there was at least one class of drugs that could give her relief. But I understand Stegner's writing it this way. Marian is so anxious to live life (and death) without interference. Well, she did. She experienced death without the "interference" of drugs. It's one thing to fish a wasp out of the jam. It's another to die screaming. This makes a case for Joe's POV over Marian's. I did feel reading this that Joe was a mouthpiece for many of Stegner's own views. R
Topic: All the Little Live Things -- Wallace Stegner (25 of 41), Read 49 times Conf: Reading List From: Ann Davey davey@tconl.com Date: Friday, June 20, 2003 04:19 PM I thought the purpose of the horse scene was that it allowed Stegner to tie the threads of the story together. Jim Peck, Julie and the Weld boy were all involved with the incident, as was Marion. I thought Stegner was trying to depict the ugly reality of death. Maybe he overdid it with the drugs not working, but I very distinctly remember the epideral not working when I had my first kid. I also remember that when my father was dying, the nurse didn't want to give him too much morphine because she was afraid it might kill him. Huh?? Our treatment of the dying has some serious problems in this country. The message for me in this book was that life,death and all natural things are messy and painful, but we need to get involved. If we are just bystanders, it's all meaningless. At the end of the book, Joe realizes this and is glad he met and loved Marian, in spite of the suffering her death caused him. (I don't think he could say the same about his son, but then that's a whole other tangent.) Marion interested me as one of a string of exceptionally strong female characters in Stegner - Susan in Angle of Repose, the mother in The Big Rock Candy Mountain, Charity in Crossing to Safety. He also writes quite frequently about angry men - the father in The Big Rock Candy Mountain, Lyman Ward in Angle of Repose, and certainly Joe in All the Little Live Things. From what I have read, the mother and father in The Big Rock Candy Mountain were modeled after Stegner's own parents, so perhaps he had a lot of experience with strong women and angry men. Ann
Topic: All the Little Live Things -- Wallace Stegner (26 of 41), Read 47 times Conf: Reading List From: Dale Short dshort@bham.rr.com Date: Friday, June 20, 2003 09:23 PM Hmmm. Fascinating, to me, how the violent horse scene is almost a Rorschach test of the differing perspectives we all bring to the novel. For me, the scene was the supreme comeuppance to Peck for his lack of responsibility throughout the book. I think what any parent wants to scream at an irresponsible kid (including their own) is "Your actions have consequences!" and "Somebody is always having to clean up your mess!" And while Peck's motorcycle is most likely only part of the proximate cause of the accident, it was the expression on Peck's face, watching the carnage, that I most relished (there, I said it). A life lesson, writ large for Mr. Free Spirit. Could it be I'm identifying too much with Joe, here? {G} The failure of the painkiller seems almost a cruel joke on someone with Marian's outlook; but then, it's just the kind of joke the cosmos is perpetually capable of. Overall, I think you guys' comments today very fluently delineate the book's message: --Ann: The message for me in this book was that life,death and all natural things are messy and painful, but we need to get involved. If we are just bystanders, it's all meaningless. --Ruth: It's one thing to fish a wasp out of the jam. It's another to die screaming. --Mary Ellen: Is this just a dark, pessimistic book: darned if you do, and darned if you don't? Or is it, with its lovely descriptions of nature, as well as the occasional delight found in human interactions, just advising us to seize whatever joy life presents as unexpected, and ephemeral, boons? To which I say, "Yes, all of the above. In spades. Exactly." >>Dale in Ala. http://www.writerstoolkit.com
Topic: All the Little Live Things -- Wallace Stegner (27 of 41), Read 43 times Conf: Reading List From: Robert Armstrong rla@nac.net Date: Saturday, June 21, 2003 10:50 AM Joe quotes some Italian (?) in his unsent letter to Marion: Nel mezzo del cammin di nosttra vita Mi ritrovai per una selva oscura…. Then comments: Nel mezzo? Quasi all fine. And later adds parenthetically: Che la diritta via era smarrita! Does anyone have a translation? Robt
Topic: All the Little Live Things -- Wallace Stegner (28 of 41), Read 45 times Conf: Reading List From: David Moody davidmoody22@aol.com Date: Saturday, June 21, 2003 11:09 AM On 6/21/2003 10:50:00 AM, Robert Armstrong wrote: >Joe quotes some Italian (?) in >his unsent letter to Marion: > >Nel mezzo del cammin di >nosttra vita >Mi ritrovai per una selva >oscura…. > That's the beginning of The Divine Comedy by Dante: In the middle of the history of our life I came to myself within a dark wood where the straight way was lost. We'll have to wait for one of our resident Italians can fill translate the other two phrases. David
Topic: All the Little Live Things -- Wallace Stegner (29 of 41), Read 50 times Conf: Reading List From: Dale Short dshort@bham.rr.com Date: Saturday, June 21, 2003 12:19 PM Robt & David: I get fragmentary results when searching the other two lines in Internet translation engines... "Nel Mezzo? Quasi all fine" comes out as "The way? Almost/barely narrow/thin." For "Che la diritta via era smarrita!" only "diritta via" shows up, meaning "straight road/way." I'm wondering if this is some variation on the biblical passage, "Because straight is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it." (Matthew 7:14) Hopefully an Italian speaker will drop by soon and clear up this mystery. >>Dale in Ala. http://www.writerstoolkit.com
Topic: All the Little Live Things -- Wallace Stegner (30 of 41), Read 48 times Conf: Reading List From: Robert Armstrong rla@nac.net Date: Saturday, June 21, 2003 12:45 PM David and Dale, Thanks for your speedy resourcefulness! Robt
Topic: All the Little Live Things -- Wallace Stegner (31 of 41), Read 45 times Conf: Reading List From: David Moody davidmoody22@aol.com Date: Saturday, June 21, 2003 01:04 PM OK, time to get serious. I'm actually at the library today doing some clean up work, but since I'm on my own time I don't mind goofing off to pursue knowledge. Unfortunately, we are in the middle of a renovation and shift right now which has put our Italian dictionaries in the general vicinity of Lapland, but I managed to scare up an old one. "Nel Mezzo? Quasi all fine" "Mezzo" means half ("half way through life; think of mezzosoprano.) "Quasi" is nearly or almost. "Fine" is troublesome. The dictionary gives "fine, pointed" (as in a pen with a fine tip), but I'm willing to bet it's actually some variant of "finale". This would mean that the phrase looks back to Dante's crack about being in the middle of his lifespan, and saying "Middle? More like the end!" "Che la diritta via era smarrita!" "Che" can be a conjuction (that, as, when, than, to, but, etc.) or a pronoun (who, which), an interjection (what, how), and also seems to have any number of colloquial meanings. "Dritta via" is "straight road", but I can't figure out how it relates to "Smarritta" which means bewildered or misled and is about how I feel right now and why I am going to shut up and leave this to someone who knows what they are doing. David
Topic: All the Little Live Things -- Wallace Stegner (32 of 41), Read 53 times Conf: Reading List From: Dale Short dshort@bham.rr.com Date: Saturday, June 21, 2003 01:54 PM Ah. This makes much sense, David. Maybe Stegner's (OK, Joe's) letter is saying something like, "Middle of life? More like the end. And I'm still bewildered about which is the right *#%^@ way." Gosh, I can identify. >>Dale in Ala. http://www.writerstoolkit.com
Topic: All the Little Live Things -- Wallace Stegner (33 of 41), Read 51 times Conf: Reading List From: David Moody davidmoody22@aol.com Date: Saturday, June 21, 2003 01:55 PM I am officially feeling stupid. Here is the first sentence of Dante's Divine Comedy, Canto I of Inferno: Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita mi reitorval per una selva oscura chè la dritta via era smarrita. Right in front of me, and I didn't see it. Again, the whole thing (in one translation): In the middle of the history of our life I came to myself within a dark wood where the straight way was lost. David
Topic: All the Little Live Things -- Wallace Stegner (34 of 41), Read 41 times Conf: Reading List From: Robert Armstrong rla@nac.net Date: Sunday, June 22, 2003 08:49 PM My thanks to whoever nominated ATLLT. I finished it today and am now a Stegner fan. And, as usual, such a good discussion. I like the way Stegner captures various California prototypes within the microcosm of one neighborhood. Jim Peck is such a necessary intruder for the story to reflect the Bay area of the sixties. Within the next few years Peck invades the rest of America, too. Both he and Marion are of their time, Peck being the dangling id and Marion a green shooted superego warning a society of its unintended damaging myopia. I had no trouble with Joe’s fascination with Marion. She represents his missing philosophical piece. Whereas, Peck was deluded reactionary in the guise of progressive, Marion gave credence to her “whacky” California acceptivity through the integrity and connectedness of her life. She expanded on tradition, lived her philosophy, functioned well and loved her family and neighbors. Joe was enamored with a Californian who finally had something authentic to offer other than the Northeast, establishment, work ethic that Joe had flourished in. They both loved nature and that bond shrunk their polarity down to toothpick proportions. I feel that Stegner concedes that Marion’s perspective is the more practical, and he does so kicking and screaming all the way. He gives her the cruelest of outcomes, has her die screaming and then insults her optimism with a dead baby, and yet, and yet, where is she wrong? Would she do better to have been cynical, angry and selfish? No. Not at all. Robt
Topic: All the Little Live Things -- Wallace Stegner (35 of 41), Read 40 times Conf: Reading List From: Pres Lancaster plancast@neteze.com Date: Monday, June 23, 2003 12:12 PM Very good post, ROBERT. pres Life is hard, tough as nails. That's why we need fairy tales. (Munchhausen, Friedrich Hollaender ?)
Topic: All the Little Live Things -- Wallace Stegner (36 of 41), Read 38 times Conf: Reading List From: Dale Short dshort@bham.rr.com Date: Monday, June 23, 2003 01:13 PM Excellent analysis, Robt. I enjoyed reading it. ...and yet, and yet, where is she [Marian] wrong? Indeed. Bravo! >>Dale in Ala. http://www.writerstoolkit.com
Topic: All the Little Live Things -- Wallace Stegner (37 of 41), Read 34 times Conf: Reading List From: Robert Armstrong rla@nac.net Date: Monday, June 23, 2003 05:17 PM Thanks Pres and Dale. Random thoughts. I like Joe Allston and aspire to several of his masculine virtues. Even though he tried to give Jim Peck a chance (maybe hoping for a breakthrough where there was none with his son) and he capitulated to Ruth and Marion’s subtle pleas to be generous and lenient and let Jim stay, still, when the whole thing blew up in Joe’s face, he took the hit. He apologized to Fran, he was forthright with the police, the buck stopped with him and he was responsible for the decision to let Peck “camp” without trying to put it on anyone else. I like how Joe was strong enough to sustain being disliked by Fran and Julie and Peck and Dave Weld when he had not intended any harm to anyone. He had enough ego strength to chalk it up to circumstance and didn’t seem to question who he was. He could be an angry guy but essentially he was thoughtful, aware, giving and responsible. You’d have to be quite something to open up Joe to something new, and, I think, Marion was. Joe and Peck were cast in the surrogate father/son struggle from the start and it was just a maddening reenactment of their former failures. That rang true: how many times have I reacted to someone as an extension of a former drama? Too many times. I don’t regard the counter culture of the sixties to be as dead ended as Jim Peck. Peck projected the enemy to be all of society, thereby perpetuating his alienation and rendering himself ineffectual. However, much of the upheaval of the times was transformative and the questioning of authority was a fruitful concept. Robt
Topic: All the Little Live Things -- Wallace Stegner (38 of 41), Read 35 times Conf: Reading List From: Ann Davey davey@tconl.com Date: Monday, June 23, 2003 09:32 PM I agree about the counter culture, Robt. Peck embodied its worst features. As always, I've been enjoying your posts. Ann
Topic: All the Little Live Things -- Wallace Stegner (39 of 41), Read 24 times Conf: Reading List From: Mary Ellen Burns smeburns@yahoo.com Date: Wednesday, June 25, 2003 01:24 PM I'd been thinking of Joe as a stand-in for Stegner (particularly in his reaction to Peck). But this morning thoughts about another Stegner book have made me reconsider. The book is "Beyond the Hundredth Meridian," a biography of John Wesley Powell, who led the first recorded expedition down the Colorado River through the length of the Grand Canyon. The book is more a story of Powell's work, and his efforts (as a scientist working for the federal government) to base regulation of land use in the West on scientific assessment of the geography, climate, etc. (Those efforts were generally unsuccessful.) Clearly, Powell is a hero of Stegner's, and I realized that in the Marian-Joe dispute about bringing in "foreign" plants, Powell would side with Marian. So I guess my simplistic Joe = Stegner's mouthpiece is off. I've also been thinking about Ruth, and her relationship with Joe. I haven't read "The Spectator Bird," but I did read your discussion of it. Is the portrayal of Ruth and Joe's marriage more vibrant in that book? Reading ALLT, I felt that they were used to each other, and comfortable (generally) with each other, but that there wasn't much depth to their relationship. I also would have liked to have gotten Ruth's perspective on many of the events of this book! Mary Ellen
Topic: All the Little Live Things -- Wallace Stegner (40 of 41), Read 20 times Conf: Reading List From: Pres Lancaster plancast@neteze.com Date: Wednesday, June 25, 2003 07:53 PM So maybe someone from here should write "All The Little Spectator Birds" from Ruth's point of view. pres, who is one of all the little lively Constant Readers. Life is hard, tough as nails. That's why we need fairy tales. (Munchhausen, Friedrich Hollaender ?)
From: Ann Davey davey@tconl.com Date: Thursday, June 26, 2003 08:02 AM Mary Ellen, Good point about Ruth. I wondered about her thoughts and feelings too. I can't remember enough about Spectator Bird to comment on her role in that book, but I remember that Joe had an eye for younger women in both books. With that barely suppressed rage, he would be a hard man to live with. Ann

 
Wallace Stegner
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