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The Spectator Bird
by Wallace Stegner

Synopsis:
Joe Allston is a retired literary agent whose parents and only son are dead, and who feels that he has been a mere spectator through life. Then a postcard from a friend causes him to return to the journals of a trip he took to his mother's birthplace to search for his roots; memories of that journey reveal that he is not quite spectator enough. Winner of the National Book Award.


Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (1 of 37), Read 37 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Sherry Keller (shkell@earthlink.net) Date: Thursday, July 13, 2000 07:55 AM This is one of my favorite books this year. Boy, Stegner is smooth. His powers of description are as clear and as evocative as any writer I have come across. I still remember a section of Angle of Repose that described a western mountain scene. His characters zing with life. They are as real to me as my next-door neighbor. And his description of Joe and Ruth’s long relationship is absolutely believable. I don’t usually underline in my books, but I couldn’t resist. And I started right away with "I had been … forced to choose whether I would be a talent broker or a broke talent." And "It is hard to be relaxed around a man who at any moment might examine your prostrate." And not all funny. "Do I hate the thought of Curt’s death more because he never fulfilled himself, or more because he never fulfilled me?" How succinct he is about some of life’s darkest questions. I’m so glad to find he has written other books about Joe and Ruth. Sherry
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (2 of 37), Read 32 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: David Moody (davidmoody@prodigy.net) Date: Thursday, July 13, 2000 08:25 AM Sherry, I agree totally about the naturalness of the characters. It's hard to believe that this book isn't autobiographical. David
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (3 of 37), Read 29 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Jane Niemeier (jniemeie@hotmail.com) Date: Thursday, July 13, 2000 08:37 PM Sherry, Here is a quote that I love from the first page. Joe is talking about their move to California. "Maybe because the bush tits are doing what I thought we would be doing out here, just messing around, paying no attention to time or duty, kicking up leaves and playing hide-and-seek up and down the oak trunks and generally enjoying themselves." Don't we all want retirement to be like that? I think it will be interesting to discuss the loss that Joe expresses when he talks about their son Curt. Jane
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (4 of 37), Read 32 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Beej Connor (connorva@mindspring.com) Date: Friday, July 14, 2000 09:06 AM I stayed up late to finish ALL THE LITTLE LIVE THINGS( sheepishly, I admit this book's ending had me in tears...it is so incredibly moving..) In this book, is a 23 page letter Joe wrote to a friend, describing so much of Curtis' life and beliefs and what sort of relationship they had with one another. It might be something that would clarify what Joe and Ruth went though with this adult "kid". Beej
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (5 of 37), Read 27 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Daniel LeBoeuf (dan1066@yahoo.com) Date: Friday, July 14, 2000 09:16 AM I enjoyed the landscapes Stegnor is so adept at presenting. The rainstorm that the Italian writer visited during was so deftly described that later in the text I had difficulty stopping the rain from falling on anyone who was outside. In fact, Stegnor almost paints with the weather, using it to heighten atmosphere or provide a counterpoint to the main action. The symbolic significance of the landscape is not overly done--it seems natural that the weather would do what it does within this novel. Stegnor's artistry is amazing. He makes it all seem just natural--almost like an entry in one of the pages of Allston's journal. Dan
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (6 of 37), Read 36 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Janet Mego (vsjego@cs.com) Date: Friday, July 14, 2000 11:12 AM I'm about halfway through this gem. It was wonderful to find an intimate friendship with Joe and Ruth beginning to develop somewhere between the hours of one and five A.M. when I couldn't sleep last night. (This is not a bid for sympathy, by the way. Insomnia's another friend, almost, and in summer it's almost pleasant to be the only one awake for hours and hours, and just read, knowing I can sleep all day if I want.) The quote that gave me the spiritual pricking down the back of my neck that I get when I stumble upon something I think is sort of mine alone (a lonely feeling) was this one: "You expect some revelation? You think you may recognize something? You expect that closing a link with your mother's past will make you feel safer in some way?" This because it put me back two summers ago when I went up the east coast to Massachusets, to a tiny town called Interlaken, hunting for the house my mother grew up in, my great grandmother's house. I found it, and due to a vivid imagination or an otherworldly experience, I did "close a link," and I did "feel safer." The passage made me yearn for something similar to happen to Joe. I think my "reality" and Joe's "fictional" experience might really be reversed as fact and fiction, in some ways. . .Anyway, I relived my experience through the wonderful cynicism of Karen Blixen's character. I don't know how clear this all is. I had to share it. Janet
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (7 of 37), Read 39 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: R Bavetta (rbavetta@prodigy.net) Date: Friday, July 14, 2000 12:32 PM That passage resonated with me, too,Janet. And I thought of my recent visits to a couple of my childhood homes, and toyed with the idea of trying to find my mother's childhood home near Stamford, Conn. while we're back east for the Boston confab. Ruth
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (8 of 37), Read 28 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Candy Minx (candyminx@hotmail.com) Date: Saturday, July 15, 2000 07:13 AM I am half way through as well, and am really charmed by his descriptions. He really is smooth. That storm on the way to Denmark was so freaky and the waves so detailed that I felt afraid and sick to my stomach by the idea of people out on the deck! Oddly, this is similar to the third book in The Deptford Trilogy in some ways that someone has said they are reading. I am also intrigued because my father went on such a trip to Denmark to tramp around where his father grew up and to visit his aunts grave etc. I am definately going to get him a copy for his birthday! I am somewhat depressed at the ideas of him not feeling a past, or that so many people in general see their past as such a short time period and their familys sense of sucess or failure as their own...but I jump the gun, as I'm only half way through... back to it then! Candy
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (9 of 37), Read 28 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Dale Short (dshort5005@aol.com) Date: Saturday, July 15, 2000 08:51 AM Candy: Good to have you on CR! I'm also enthralled by Stegner, having made it past the ocean crossing section. Way too real for comfort, particularly since I'm so prone to motion sickness I can't even do porch swings. I was a little wary of Joe at first because most crusty old characters get on my nerves pretty quickly--probably because they hit too close to home--but now I love the guy. So many great asides: "Crucifixion can be discussed philosophically until they start to drive the nails in." I also agree with whoever said above (Steve?) that Stegner is the master of the one-sentence character description. As in their rakish buddy Caesare: "He loves himself so much you have to love him too." Good, good writing. Can't wait to get back to it. >>Dale in Ala.
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (10 of 37), Read 28 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Steve Warbasse (wk4@uswest.net) Date: Saturday, July 15, 2000 09:42 AM 'Tweren't me, Dale. I'm right on top of this one though and couldn't agree more with the very favorable comments about this book above. Joe's voice is a very real one and nicely conveys a bright, good man in the midst of a quiet crisis. One feels comfortable with Joe. I am learned previously here to be cautious in comments about a book that I am only half through. Whatever happens, I will say at this point that I am envious of this marriage between Joe and Ruth. I really do like this marriage and the way it works. There aren't many great books with an aged character at the center, are there? It just so happens that one of my all time favorite novels, The Old Man and the Sea, is one. You would think that as we boomers descend into old age, the market for a literature of aging would heat up, wouldn't you? Steve
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (11 of 37), Read 28 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Dale Short (dshort5005@aol.com) Date: Saturday, July 15, 2000 10:33 AM Steve: I agree, re: the Alstons' marriage. I suspect this is about as good as it gets. Somebody mentioned that the novel has an autobiographical feel, and I'm sure there are elements of that here. But I also know that Stegner is so good at writing other people's realities that it's very hard to tell the difference. For instance, I once read that people who met the Stegners after reading CROSSING TO SAFETY were quietly aghast that his wife wasn't in a wheelchair. Every emotional detail of that experience had been so convincing in the novel that they assumed it had to be autobiographical. The same is true of a (very under-rated, I think) novelist named Hilma Wolitzer, who wrote ENDING, about a woman whose husband dies prematurely and leaves her to raise two young sons. The book is so emotionally overpowering that readers who meet her in person inquire delicately about the circumstances of her husband's death, only to find he's much alive and kicking. As I writer, I would think such incorrect assumptions are one of the highest compliments that can be afforded a piece of work. >>Dale in Ala.
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (12 of 37), Read 29 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Janet Mego (vsjego@cs.com) Date: Saturday, July 15, 2000 10:58 AM Dale and Steve, What I've been curious about is whether Stegner really had a friendship with Karen Blixen or not. I was imagining him grinning mischievously as he wrote about her "withchlike" character and the impression Joe has of her own image of her "pseudo" life after her "real" life in Africa. He must have know her well, don't you think? I wonder what she thought of herself as portrayed. That is probably my favorite part so far. I've read some excerpts from OUT OF AFRICA and will go back eventually to fill in the gaps. Janet
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (13 of 37), Read 31 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: R Bavetta (rbavetta@prodigy.net) Date: Saturday, July 15, 2000 11:33 AM Funny, I wasn't as enamored of Crossing to Safety and Angle of Repose (which I thought went on for way too long) as some here, but I loved SB. I'm a complete sucker for graceful prose and a witty phrase (hence my love for Cheever and Updike). I'm a sucker for Karen Blixen and for descriptions of California landscape. And I had fun with the Danish, which is enough like Norwegian that I could read it and congratulate myself for having done so. Rather than write something new (I'm feeling lazy this fine Saturday morning), now I'll just paste in what I wrote to Pres about this book: But more than that, with my 65th birthday (which is a milestone of sorts) looming next month, and Leif having just had his 72nd, the book addresses themes that are much in our thoughts nowadays. To wit, what it's like as life gets to speeding by, faster and faster, and the vista ahead is shorter and shorter, while the physical plant is giving out mysterious shakes, rattles and rolls, and we become unwilling experts on a variety of ailments we'd rather not know about. The book engendered much thought on my part. Altho some of it wasn't cheerful thought, it was good, serious thought. Ruth
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (14 of 37), Read 33 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Steve Warbasse (wk4@uswest.net) Date: Saturday, July 15, 2000 12:10 PM I think you should go back and fill in the gaps of Out of Africa, Janet. . .and join our forthcoming discussion of it this November in Classics Corner. Steve
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (15 of 37), Read 31 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Kay Dugan (okaychatt@mindspring.com) Date: Saturday, July 15, 2000 01:31 PM Ruth- I also read with interest Joe's comments on aging. And as much as I love this book now, I want to read it again when I am closer to his age. As it is now, I read SB more as a spectator, though I have heard many of the same sorts of comments from my mother, who just turned a lively 75. I find myself identifying strongly with Joe, as my baby boomer body is starting to show signs of aging. It's just that I think I will have a more complete understanding as I age. I think what strikes me most about Stegner, besides his stunning one sentence character summaries, is the manner he uses to convey the sense of what it means to be alive and relatively insignificant in the grand scheme of life. His characters' struggles to make sense of their everyday existences ring a bell of recognition in my heart.
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (16 of 37), Read 23 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Beej Connor (connorva@mindspring.com) Date: Saturday, July 15, 2000 09:54 PM There is something about old Joe that leaves me sad and unsettled. I tend to think it is because there is a sort of "learned helplessness" about him, mostly over the death of his son. I had to return this book to the library, and someone else had reserved it so I don't have it on hand to refer to, but wasn't there a question of whether or not Curtis' death was an accident or a suicide? At least in his parent's mind? I know this was spoken of in the book ALL THE LITTLE LIVE THINGS... (posted this in the middle of the thread by accident..oops..sorry guys...) Beej
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (17 of 37), Read 27 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Candy Minx (candyminx@hotmail.com) Date: Saturday, July 15, 2000 03:23 PM Wow, there are so many things to think about in this book. At first I didn't like Joe or Ruth, I thought they seemed awful with each other, but by the end I saw that they really were lovely and not all naggy and stuff. In fact any naggy stuff they both seemed to ultimately take it as signs of 'love' and it is compared to birds taking care of each other. I felt very disturbed by his opinions of his sons life, and felt this didnt get reconciled by the end of the novel. I found it weird that he didnt notice that his stage in life was very similar to how his son had chosen to live, just at a younger age. Also the experimentation and dis-satisfaction of the bizarre Danes with their 'breeding' practices seemed to mirror his dissatisfaction with Curts life. I just found that really sad, and as I also always kinda wondered "Is that what old people think of us?". That was weird to see a character from the inside who is judgemental of 'the younger set'. I also laughed aout loud at some of his grumblings and ultimately thought he was an incredible character. I didnt think he was an 'outsider' because I loved his involvement with nature and his surroundings. I thought that showed how he had an involvement deeper and sensitive than he thought. So the part where the Italian art star visits and doesnt understand how they could live in California or a quiet rural life, made me think of how he couldnt understand how his son could live that way. Bennyway, I'm not sure what all this means I'm saying and its just my initial response to finishing book, but over all I thought he was a fantastic character. Candy
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (18 of 37), Read 29 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Dale Short (dshort5005@aol.com) Date: Saturday, July 15, 2000 04:17 PM All: There's a neat site hosted by San Jose State called "Literary Locales," which has photos of writers' homes. I'm still trying to find more info about Stegner and Blixen's relationship, but in the meantime here is Blixen's place... >>Dale in Ala.
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (19 of 37), Read 28 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: R Bavetta (rbavetta@prodigy.net) Date: Saturday, July 15, 2000 06:55 PM I can't make the link work, Dale. I kept trying to pinpoint exactly where Joe and Ruth lived. Or rather, where Stegner had them planted in his authorial eye. Ruth
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (20 of 37), Read 32 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Dick Haggart (law@haggart.com) Date: Saturday, July 15, 2000 07:11 PM Me neither, Ruth, but I got a nice offer to buy a car. The Chilbained Lawyer
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (21 of 37), Read 32 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: R Bavetta (rbavetta@prodigy.net) Date: Saturday, July 15, 2000 08:18 PM Me, too. Ruth
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (22 of 37), Read 32 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Beej Connor (connorva@mindspring.com) Date: Saturday, July 15, 2000 10:06 PM And what is going on with Joe and his little landlady there in Denmark? There was something almost ethereal about her, and Joe seems to be so frustrated that she has accepted her lot in life. But there is more there...why have a 20 year case of the guilts over one little kiss? One postcard from her, and he drags out all these journals... Beej
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (23 of 37), Read 28 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Kay Dugan (okaychatt@mindspring.com) Date: Sunday, July 16, 2000 07:05 AM Beej- I got the impression that though nothing more than the kiss happened, Joe is torn with guilt because he chose not to "rescue" Astrid. I think he knows he could have had a very different kind of love with her and regrets the lost opportunity. However, he also understands that he and Ruth are meant to be, and wouldn't change that for the world. He tells Ruth, "...I mean there just was never any real choice. There was no question.....I would have liked her company the rest of my life...and eventually I forgot her...I couldn't have forgotten you that way. I'd have regretted you the rest of my life." p. 212 in my Penguin edition.
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (24 of 37), Read 29 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Kay Dugan (okaychatt@mindspring.com) Date: Sunday, July 16, 2000 07:08 AM I like the quiet solidity Joe and Ruth have for each other. They may get irritated with each other and have it out, but each knows that the foundation of their love is rock solid. How does Stegner write his characters and their relationships so vividly? I feel a personal connection with both Joe and Ruth. Stegner has moved into my top 10 authors list.
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (25 of 37), Read 27 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: R Bavetta (rbavetta@prodigy.net) Date: Sunday, July 16, 2000 10:16 AM One thing that I've been wondering about is the Adventure in the Castle (including the bit about selective breeding). What was that all about? Why did Stegner include this in his tale? What function do you think it served? Ruth
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (26 of 37), Read 22 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Candy Minx (candyminx@hotmail.com) Date: Sunday, July 16, 2000 01:45 PM All, I wondered about the kiss as well and why that haunted him for all those years. I guess it was about losing that kind of a friendship or the road not taken. Oh that crazy castle family!! I too wondered about that. As I said in a post yesterday I wondered if we aren't supposed to kind of compare joes dis-satisfaction with his son to the genetics mad men in that castle family... As I've thought about this overnight and from a lot of the posts here, I too share a joy about these two and their great friendship. It sure points to the idea that the best romantic relationships are rooted in friendship.
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (27 of 37), Read 21 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Beej Connor (connorva@mindspring.com) Date: Sunday, July 16, 2000 02:24 PM It appears to me, that a lot of what is significant in this book centers around control. Joe was merely a "spectator bird" in his son's life. Astrid seemed to surrender any control in her situation. And yet, the ultimate control here..superior breeding, is horrendous and negatively impacts many lives, including Joe's mother's. Perhaps any parallel that can be formed between the selective breeding and Joe's dealings with his son (and his son's death), centers around the control issue... Beej
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (28 of 37), Read 18 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Dale Short (dshort5005@aol.com) Date: Sunday, July 16, 2000 02:35 PM All: Still can't locate a picture of Stegner's home, but at least here are a couple from his hometown of Los Altos Hills, south of San Francisco... >>Dale in Ala.
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (29 of 37), Read 23 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Dale Short (dshort5005@aol.com) Date: Sunday, July 16, 2000 02:05 PM Ruth & All: Doggone it. I still can't get the link to the photo of Stegner's homeplace to work. And nobody even tries to sell me anything...{G} I did, however, find out that he was a resident of Los Altos Hills for the last 40 years or so of his life. Here's a reference to him in a 1998 newspaper article: Wealthy Head for the 'Hills' But can town accommodate them without compromising its rural environment? By Carol Tiegs Town Crier Staff Writer In the mid-1950s, threatened by encroaching development and wanting "to hang on to an image," residents of what today is Los Altos Hills reluctantly banded together and incorporated as a township. Summing up the incorporation cause at a pre-incorporation meeting, resident and noted author Wallace Stegner said, "After all, ladies and gentlemen, we are only trying to save God's little acre." "We want the sun and air and quiet of a community which has given itself enough space to breathe in; the relaxed pace of country life and rural pursuits - rabbits, dogs, chickens, sheep, cattle, horses..." an incorporation campaign leaflet said. Not long before Stegner's 1993 accidental death in a car accident, Ramona Chown, a resident of the town since 1965, spoke with him about the town. "He was very disappointed and discouraged about how things had developed," Chown said. Town residents love the peaceful life in Los Altos Hills. It's attracting new residents daily. Planning Director Curtis Williams said the town has received 35-40 building permit applications annually over the last three years, double the number for the early 1990s. And yet disappointment, discouragement and dissension are palpable. "Los Altos Hills is losing its soul," said Chown and her daughter-in-law Valerie Chown in a Town Crier interview. At issue is how the town can preserve its rural environment while accommodating residents' property rights and their changing desires and concerns. It plays out in debates over house size and details of design, predictability of planning review and value of off-road pathways... >>Dale in Ala.
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (30 of 37), Read 18 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Kay Dugan (okaychatt@mindspring.com) Date: Sunday, July 16, 2000 05:11 PM Beej- Thinking out loud here. Interesting point about "control" as a theme in SB. Perhaps the relationship between control and Joe's deceased son has to do with being able to accept an "aberration." I am thinking of the stag with the deformed antler which Eigil wants to kill off. Joe understands that the stag is not perfect, yet he is shocked at the idea of simply doing away with anything that does not conform. He realizes there is intrinsic value, even in the imperfect relationship he had with his son? Joe has spent much of his life trying to come to terms with his attempt to control his relationship with his son. Perhaps it's not until he meets Eigil and learns of his cold scientific approach to breeding the perfect line that Joe begins to accept his relationship with his son, imperfections and all? No, that's not quite it, either. His struggle is more complex than that. This is a vague idea for me right now. I'll ruminate and get back to it. Meanwhile, help me out here. We're on to something.
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (31 of 37), Read 17 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Beej Connor (connorva@mindspring.com) Date: Sunday, July 16, 2000 07:22 PM Kay, I've been trying to tie it together myself.maybe he sees his son, and the stag, as having redemptive qualities beyond the flaws. His son died before these qualities surpassed his "flaws". and what about the tennis match between these 2 men? Beej
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (32 of 37), Read 16 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Beej Connor (connorva@mindspring.com) Date: Sunday, July 16, 2000 07:37 PM Kay, do you suppose, especially in the light of the idea that Curtis' death might have been a suicide, that Joe was simply furious ,all those years ,with Curtis for dying before he realized that "Father knows Best?"...Like you, simply thinking out loud here... Beej
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (33 of 37), Read 15 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: R Bavetta (rbavetta@prodigy.net) Date: Sunday, July 16, 2000 08:18 PM Was Joe really furious with Curtis, or was he just furious with fate, or the situation, or why he couldn't understand his son? Ruth
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (34 of 37), Read 16 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Kay Dugan (okaychatt@mindspring.com) Date: Sunday, July 16, 2000 08:31 PM Ruth- Good question. What parent hasn't had to struggle with the "you can't tell me how to live my life" rebellion of her children? I think you're right - Curtis died before the conflict could be resolved. No parent should have to be denied the enjoyment that comes from having an adult to adult relationship with her child. It's one of life's ultimate pleasures. Joe could have dealt with Curtis' death easier, I think, if there was no question of whether it was suicide or not.
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (35 of 37), Read 16 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Jane Niemeier (jniemeie@hotmail.com) Date: Sunday, July 16, 2000 08:31 PM Eigil most certainly have believed in "survival of the fittest", and Curt probably didn't fit into what most people would consider "the fittest" with his beach bum lifestyle. Perhaps, the buck that Joe saw made him see that there is value in keeping those who are not the fittest and he saw some value in his son's short life. Maybe, this is a stretch. I am not a parent, but I can imagine that a suicide would be a parent's worst nightmare. Jane
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (36 of 37), Read 14 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Beej Connor (connorva@mindspring.com) Date: Sunday, July 16, 2000 09:23 PM Perhaps Joe saw a side of himself that had little appeal to him, when he saw Eigel intended to kill a "nonconforming" being. I think Joe was furious because he had no control over Curtis. Curtis disturbed Joe's simple order of things. Beej
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (37 of 37), Read 12 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Beej Connor (connorva@mindspring.com) Date: Sunday, July 16, 2000 09:38 PM I think a line from the front jacket flap says so much...JOE WAS KILLING TIME UNTIL TIME KILLED HIM.." (or on that line..) Beej
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (38 of 69), Read 48 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Dale Short (dshort5005@aol.com) Date: Monday, July 17, 2000 05:21 PM Beej, Jane, Kay, Ruth & All: I very much agree that the issue of emotional control is at the heart of the strange and wonderful animal that is THE SPECTATOR BIRD, as was also true--albeit in a very different context--of Stegner's novel CROSSING TO SAFETY. Just thinking out loud, here, but it seems to me that of all the professions that would require a genetic passion for control, the insane dog-eat-dog crapshoot that is agenting/publishing (at which Joe apparently had more than average success) would be near the head of them. That said, I think it's not accidental that the area of Joe's personal life in which he's arguably had the most success is his marriage--precisely for the reason that he's long ago accepted the fact he can't control it. Case in point: early on, with the flamboyant Caesare and his new sweetie arriving early for lunch during a monsoon and power failure, and Ruth understandably bouncing off the walls, Joe says "Relax. We'll make it." To which Ruth responds, "Oh, relax!" and bounces a notch higher. To which Joe says to himself, "When she gets into one of those states she resents any attempt to soothe her. Only last-ditch desperation is permissible." I know couples who have been together 50+ years and have not figured out this equation. (It only took me 25 {G}). I believe that part of Joe's wisdom and grief, which are often inseparable, is the thought of "what if" he had applied this same technique to the other parts of his life, most specifically his son. But then, this is the kind of book that makes one want to think out loud. God bless Stegner and his characters. >>Dale in Ala.
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (39 of 69), Read 43 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Jane Niemeier (jniemeie@hotmail.com) Date: Monday, July 17, 2000 08:23 PM Dale, That was a very good post, as usual. The fact that Joe and Ruth still have problems and arguments after all these years make them seem like a real couple. I need to read more Stegner! Jane
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (40 of 69), Read 46 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Ann Davey (davey@tconl.com) Date: Monday, July 17, 2000 10:20 PM Stegner is one of my favorite American authors and this book didn't disappoint me. I didn't think that Joe ever reconciled himself to his son's premature death. I expected Stegner to provide some sense of resolution regarding this issue since it seemed to be at the heart of Joe's sense of a wasted life. Instead he left it hanging, which struck me as very realistic. A man like Joe would never get over the lost possibilities his son's death represented. I really enjoyed the discussion of the role of control in this novel. At the end, Joe finds personal satisfaction in his own sense of self-control. Attracted as he was to Astrid, he chose to remain faithful to his wife. He recognizes that his marriage was the main accomplishment of his life. Not too many people can say that. As for Karen Blixen, I have seen pictures of her after she returned to Denmark and she really did look like an old crone or witch. Her husband had infected her with syphilis early in their marriage and she was never completely cured. In her later years, she had very painful syphilis of the spine, which also caused crippling abdominal pains, extreme thinness, and heavy facial wrinkles. She was not a pretty sight. Ruth, I agree that the genetic experiment part of the story seemed pretty far out. I wonder what made Stegner come up with this. I do have one question for everyone. Why oh why didn't Astrid leave Denmark in all those years? Did she feel a sense of guilt that compelled her to stay and take her punishment? If so, why? Ann
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (41 of 69), Read 45 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Beej Connor (connorva@mindspring.com) Date: Monday, July 17, 2000 10:36 PM Would leaving Denmark have changed anything tho? Maybe she was comfortable with her misery just as it was... Beej
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (42 of 69), Read 44 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Candy Minx (candyminx@hotmail.com) Date: Tuesday, July 18, 2000 07:39 AM Ann, I'm glad I'm not the only one who felt disturbed by the lack of resolution of Joe and his feelings for his son, the disappointment and the loss. This has been bothering me for a couple of days just how unresolved that aspect of the book was, but I think you made a good point that that is one of those realistic parts of life added to book. It made me very sad some of the things he said about his son. The Italian novelist who judges Joe and Ruths 'new' lifestyle was a little like how Joe felt about his own sons lifestyle. Joe seemed to feel that living a life enjoying the outdoors and friends was not a good life goal, yet there he was by the end of his life living very similar even same State as his son. Candy
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (43 of 69), Read 42 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Barbara Moors (bar647@aol.com) Date: Tuesday, July 18, 2000 08:01 AM When I first read the synopsis on the back cover for The Spectator Bird, I was afraid it was going to be one of the usual Madison Avenue stories. "A literary agent trying to find meaning late in life", I thought...not my cuppa, as Ruth says. However, I trusted Stegner after the other two books I'd read of his. Also, Dale said that this was Stegner's book closest in style to those two: Crossing to Safety and Angle of Repose. And, hooray, I'm glad I did. Have been recommending this to everyone in the past week. In a subheading under that broader issue of "control", I kept thinking about the difference in attitude between my expectations for life at age 21 and the age 53. Most people assume at the outset of their adult life that they will be able to mold the major events of their life: spouse, children, job, lifestyle, etc. At age 53, I'm realizing that I influenced things that I never expected and had little or not control over what I thought would be so important. Joe, I thought, was coming to those realizations, as well. What disdain he would have felt for a man who became a literary agent instead of an author when he was in his 20's. Would he ever have thought when he was 21 that it was possible to love two women, maybe even equally? And, doesn't everyone think that they will be able to raise a child with the "right" attitudes and priorities, according to their definition? The hard won realities range across a continuum from bitter to sweet, I think. I thought that the story of the genetic engineering fit in quite well, actually. It's an interesting rumination on what happens if this desire to make things turn out the way we want them to is taken to ultimate steps. We want to think that it's ridiculous. However, I've always thought that the important lesson of some of the horrors of our history, such as Hitler, is that they are a part of the human condition. There are elements of them in all of us, giving us warnings to be even that much more on guard. Barb
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (44 of 69), Read 45 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Dale Short (dshort5005@aol.com) Date: Tuesday, July 18, 2000 09:34 AM Barb writes: Most people assume at the outset of their adult life that they will be able to mold the major events of their life: spouse, children, job, lifestyle, etc. At age 53, I'm realizing that I influenced things that I never expected and had little or no control over what I thought would be so important... The hard won realities range across a continuum from bitter to sweet, I think. Barb: If ever one of life's truths was put in a nutshell, you sure nailed this one, I think. One of my favorite quotations from the New Testament is from my main man, St. Paul. He says, "That which I would do, I do not. That which I would not do, it I do." The man sure knew--as did Stegner--the human condition. >>Dale in Ala.
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (45 of 69), Read 35 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Janet Mego (vsjego@cs.com) Date: Tuesday, July 18, 2000 10:01 AM All-- Just finished this book last night. Ann, I think that the Countess could not leave Denmark any more than Joe could have stayed. Her sense of responsibility, loyalty to the Family and in a strange way, her father's memory was a mirror to Joe's commitment to Ruth, but also a foil to his love for her (Ruth). The ironic thread running thoughout this novel seems pervasive and a huge part of thematic thread weaving the complexities of character together. Joe feels his son has been disloyal by leaving; the countess cannot leave. Ruth can accept her son's refusal to conform and even his death; Joe cannot. The Countess's father's bizarre lack of conformity to society in the name of "science" is approved by the brother who wants to reject imperfection in humans and stags, but who conforms to his father's experimentation, an experimentation considered by "normal" society to bring out the very worst in the human animal, ethically speaking. But Joe is capable of pondering his own revulsion with the incest: is it sin, a crime, sickness, or a biological taboo(?) Joe proves himself capable of self-analysis to this degree, thus perhaps proving he also has the POTENTIAL for accepting his son's choices and perhaps even his suicide, eventually. Great points made in the earlier posts; I'm attepting to piece together some puzzle parts, but not sure it's all fitting. I also see problems ahead with my own stepchildren and the choices we already seem to be trying to make FOR them--I think I have learned valuable stuff from Stegner and from CR's. . . Janet
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (46 of 69), Read 36 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Mary Anne Papale (mapreads@aol.com) Date: Tuesday, July 18, 2000 10:42 AM I have just finished reading SB, and read through all the posts here. Like Dan, I was taken with the force of the weather Stegner depicts, both in California and on his trip to Denmark. If there is any constant aspect of our lives that demonstrates our lack of control, it's the weather. Then there is the aging process. Joe is saddled with arthritis, and sharing his angst all the way. At the same time, he know the alternative because his friend Tom Patterson has a death sentence. He has some regrets about some of his life choices, or non-choices, and he is crabby about it. I think this depiction is written close to the bone for many of us, or perhaps all of us, and it makes us squirm. When this book was written in the 70s, it was hip to think that all of your problems could be solved if you just "talk it out". So Ruth urges Joe to get it all off his chest. But it turns out that the journals don't quite go to the end of the story, and getting to the heart of the matter doesn't always solve the problem. I too, love so many of the depictions. One of my favorites is Joe's rant about how you can't cure arthritis, just stave it off as in a battle. Metaphors be with you... MAP
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (47 of 69), Read 41 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Steve Warbasse (wk4@uswest.net) Date: Tuesday, July 18, 2000 11:26 AM Just a small quibble, MAP. Joe has a death sentence, too--as do all of us--and is very well aware of it. As I indicated earlier, this is clearly great fiction on the subject of aging. I certainly have not changed my mind as I near the end of it. Certainly, you are absolutely correct in your observations about our discomfort with all this. I found Joe's observations about the dwindling opportunities to improve one's life to be painfully accurate and very poignant. Barb's comments about inventorying one's life are very apt, also. One progressively looks back more than one looks forward in spite of one's best efforts. It apparently is an inevitable part of the aging process. The spirit with which one does it is what counts, I guess. Joe and Ruth undertake this with quite different spirits. I need to finish the last part before addressing that any further though. Steve
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (48 of 69), Read 33 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Mary Anne Papale (mapreads@aol.com) Date: Tuesday, July 18, 2000 04:11 PM Here's a gem of a paragraph, from p. 177: "And how about the effect I produced at the table by mentioning the name Sverdrup? Everybody there except Ruth and the little baron reacted as if to hydrogen sulphide. I may even have brought on the old lady's attack, though Ruth tries to assure me that nobody can take any blame for the strokes and heart attacks of a person nearly a hundred years old. Still how do you read it? Here she comes out tottering, propped up by pride and will to do her matriarch's duty to her granddaughter and her granddaughter's friends, and pow, said friend utters the forbidden name, smoke rises, there is a stink of brimstone, beautiful ladies turn into snouted beasts, the plates slither with live eels, the family portraits reel on the walls, and the offending one saves himself only by laying his knife and fork crosswise. The matriarch holds herself together long enough to be helped out, and drops dead." I love this, and so many other wonderful passages. Metaphors be with you... MAP
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (49 of 69), Read 38 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Kay Dugan (okaychatt@mindspring.com) Date: Tuesday, July 18, 2000 05:07 PM Mary Ann- I found myself laughing out loud several times during my read. Joe's take on things is quite whimsical at times.
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (50 of 69), Read 37 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Jane Niemeier (jniemeie@hotmail.com) Date: Tuesday, July 18, 2000 08:46 PM I have been enjoying all of these notes. I picked up my book just now, and it opened to page 186. On this page, the countess tells Ruth and Joe that both of her parents had committed suicide. This is before Joe realizes that the countess is not the daughter that the father slept with. Joe must have admired the countess for continuing on. She is most definitely a survivor, and Joe and Ruth learned from her example. In spite of all the gossip about her family and her husband, she soldiered on as best she could. I also love this scene: p. 101 Joe, Ruth and the countess are driving to the home of Karen Blixen. "Then we came to a stretch of beechwoods, and the light changed. Everything went palely green and gold. Between the smooth gray trunks the grass was starred with white anemones or hepaticas. The leaves passing over our heads were tiny, delicate, tender as pale green flowers, a tinted mist that in a couple of days would be a green roof. Fairies must have been invented in a spring beechwood. The ladies exclaimed and fell silent. At the far edge I made a quick U-turn and came back through. We rolled slowly with our heads tipped back, and at the edge turned again and came through a third time. Druidical magic" No wonder both Ruth and the countess were in love with Joe. Jane
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (51 of 69), Read 41 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Ann Davey (davey@tconl.com) Date: Tuesday, July 18, 2000 11:03 PM Stegner wrote his greatest books when he was over 60: Angle of Repose at the age of 62, The Spectator Bird at 67, and Crossing to Safety at 78. He had accumulated a lot of wisdom and insight into human nature by then and it shows in his work. What do you think? Is it unusual to be writing so successfully this late in life? Regarding the theme of control, it is interesting that Joe felt he would be ceding control to Ruth if he opened up to her about his true feelings. "Catching me with my feelings showing would give her power over me as surely as if she had collected my nail parings and tufts of my hair. It is always risky to speak in generalities, but I think that most women are helped by verbalizing things and talking them out. Men avoid this like the plague. As far as I can determine (help me here, guys) they seem to see it as a weakness. I enjoyed Stegner's insight into these male/female differences. Candy, I do think that it is ironic that Joe's life in California, centered on nature and friends, ended up very similar to that of his son's --with legal drugs substituted for illegal ones, of course. However, he seems to have judged his own life there to be just as meaningless as that of his son. As for Astrid, I am still puzzled by the fact that she didn't escape from her tormented life in Denmark. Mixed in with her horror at her father's actions, there must have been some love. She did go to visit his grave. When she left, she curtsied. Surely, this was a sign of respect. (That curtsey was a perfect touch, wasn't it?) Maybe the ties to home were so strong that she couldn't break them. The story opens, after all, with an immigrant returning to the village of his birth. It's not so easy after all to cut loose from our origins. Ann
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (52 of 69), Read 47 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Steve Warbasse (wk4@uswest.net) Date: Tuesday, July 18, 2000 11:24 PM One chiming in. Yes. Men avoid this like the plague. And it is the plague. Steve
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (53 of 69), Read 46 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Sherry Keller (shkell@earthlink.net) Date: Wednesday, July 19, 2000 07:32 AM Jane, I'm not so sure Astrid was not the daughter her father was obsessed with. She was barren, remember? So he could have slept with more than one daughter. I think this obsession is the reason the town ostracized her. I have a question, which I think may have been answered in the book, but I'm still not quite sure. Why did Joe's mother really leave Denmark? The speculation that the father wanted to get all the non-relatives out of the way seems rather weak. BTW, don't you love the word "quisling"? I just looked it up and it turns out much more specific than I had imagined. "Vidkun Quisling, died 1945, Norwegian politician who collaborated with the Nazis." Sherry
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (54 of 69), Read 50 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Beej Connor (connorva@mindspring.com) Date: Wednesday, July 19, 2000 07:52 AM Sherry, In ALL THE LITTLE LIVE THINGS, it goes into Joe's mother's background, and apparently the young girls who lived and worked on this estate were also subjected to this genetic breeding thing. She left to avoid being a part of this. And she suffered great hardships for the remainder of her life,moving from area to area in the States, hoping to make a bit more money here or there(mostly cleaning houses) with which to support herself and her son. Beej
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (55 of 69), Read 48 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Dale Short (dshort5005@aol.com) Date: Wednesday, July 19, 2000 09:37 AM Ann: As to subject of male/female verbalizing, I think you're exactly right as to the gender differences, but I don't think men necessarily regard talking about feelings as a sign of weakness. In fact, Steve and I have had an ongoing colloquy about this very subject, lo these years, and though it's always dangerous to generalize, we have found (correct me if I'm wrong, Steve) our own experiences in this regard to have been virtually identical. Indeed, it's our feeling that males could be spared much angst and misunderstanding if they could have tattooed at birth, on wrist or hand, the simple advice: "Never volunteer information." I'm not being cynical or misogynist about this. It's just been my experience that women, in general, are FAR more verbal and mentally agile in discussing feelings, opinions, and preferences than men are, and far LESS prone than men to saying really stupid stuff, off-the-cuff, without thinking it through. When talking to any female about feelings, I feel totally out of my league. A good nine times out of ten, revelations that I make about myself lead to (a) an argument and/or hard feelings, or (b) being used as evidence for the prosecution in some future discussion months, even years, down the road. Whereas, the worst charge I've ever drawn for keeping my mouth shut is that I don't talk enough about my feelings. Guilty as charged, I can say, and go on. Could be a lot worse. On a side note...even at times when in-depth discussions of spousal feelings are inevitable, or even healing, I find them to be a tremendous emotional drain from which I don't recover for days. As a fiction writer, I know that I have a finite quantity of emotional energy during any 24-hour period, and I can either put it into my life or into my characters. Life is short, art is long. OK. That said, how deep a hole did I dig for myself just now? {G} >>Dale in Ala.
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (56 of 69), Read 46 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Steve Warbasse (wk4@uswest.net) Date: Wednesday, July 19, 2000 10:14 AM Actually, Dale, I think Stegner does a wonderful job of portraying in part what you are talking about. Ruth sits there watching Joe intently as he reads and picks up on things that he does not think he is revealing. Perhaps, that is in part what he is referring to in this quotation that Ann has set out about power. Frankly, the only problem I have with this novel is the premise that Joe would ever consent to read his journal aloud to Ruth in the first place. He seems to me a more sane man than that would indicate him to be. I shall risk some generalizations, too. First, women are much more intuitive and much better than men at interpreting non-verbal things. This is the reason that it is so much easier simply to conceal things from women (read, "keep your mouth shut") than it is to lie to them. Second, men and women are many times working at cross purposes during these discussions of "feelings." When a man is ill advised enough to enter into one of these colloquies, he does so with the thought of solving a problem. The woman, on the other hand, is concerned with talking about the problem. These are two quite different objectives. Again, I think Stegner does a wonderful job with these kinds of things. Steve
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (57 of 69), Read 42 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Mary Anne Papale (mapreads@aol.com) Date: Wednesday, July 19, 2000 11:52 AM Actually, I agree with Steve & Dale here. In fact, Joe says it well at one point (I forget the circumstance) when he notes that Ruth wants the information, but sometimes the information can be too rough for her to take. In my experience, this kind of sharing is only wise if it is going to lead to mutual problem-solving. Also, I believe Stegner exposes Ruth's (and perhaps women's, in general) real motives in having the journals read: she wants to get to the part she thinks is there, Joe having an affair with Astrid. I also have to say that I was surprised that Ruth was surprised that Joe never got over Curtis' death. Did she? And if it were her journal being read, could she read that part 20 years later without having an emotional reaction? I expect not. I think the reader, male or female, is meant to identify more with Joe in this novel. On another note: I loved the commentary on Walter Cronkite made in SB. Does anyone here think that Stegner is saying anything by the fact that life works of Joyce Carol Oats, Edwin O'Conner, Eugene O'Neill and Katherine Ann Porter got wet during the storm? Cesare gets to be dismissive of these works, which makes me wonder what Stegner thought of them. Metaphors be with you... MAP
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (58 of 69), Read 39 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Steve Warbasse (wk4@uswest.net) Date: Wednesday, July 19, 2000 12:19 PM MAP, thank you for understanding that I did not intend to imply any value judgment on the different approaches of men and women, most particularly married couples, to these discussions. I simply intended to describe how this all seems to work based solely upon what older, more experienced men have told me. Some wise person opined--and I am paraphrasing here--that a little dishonesty is necessary in any successful marriage. It is uncompromising honesty that blows 'em up. A related converse situation arises in The Dubliners. I cannot remember the characters' names, but you will recall that after the dinner party, the husband learns for the first time of his wife's young love who died. He also learns that she still thinks of that young man and continues to mourn her loss. The whole thing comes as a tremendous shock to him. You pose a fascinating question concerning the books that Stegner chose to get soaked, one that didn't occur to me. I'm not sure we can know what Stegner intended to convey by this, but we can be darned sure he didn't chose these authors at random and with no conscious purpose. Steve
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (59 of 69), Read 31 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Ann Davey (davey@tconl.com) Date: Wednesday, July 19, 2000 05:35 PM All, Thanks for the comments on the male/female attitudes about discussing "feelings." I think you're onto something when you say that men generally expect the discussion to result in solutions, whereas women are often comforted by the mere verbalization. Although I can talk to my sister and my friends ad infinitum about feelings and relationships, I realize that I am very careful how I phrase my responses to what they tell me. I figure my role is one of support and I more or less expect the same from them. Maybe men get burned by being too honest? I don't know, but since my husband makes Joe look like a compulsive confider I have always wondered about this. Sherry, it also occurred to me too that Astrid may well have been sexually abused by her father. But wouldn't that have been even a stronger reason for her to leave? Unless, of course, she was psychologically damaged and felt compelled to suffer for her own acts and those of her relatives. Beej, how interesting that this genetic experimentation theme appeared in a book published 9 years earlier. I'm glad I didn't know that was coming because I really enjoyed the surprises in this novel. Ann
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (60 of 69), Read 33 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Beej Connor (connorva@mindspring.com) Date: Wednesday, July 19, 2000 06:04 PM Ann, it was really interesting how these two books went together like a hand and a glove. He not only mentioned his trip to Denmark several times, but there were so many little facts that are in both books! Its almost as if he mentioned tidbits in the first, and then went back, picked up on some, and wrote the SPECTATOR BIRD. Obviously, Joe is either partly autobiographical or Stegner is a genius at character development. My guess is that its a little of both. As I read ALL THE LITTLE LIVE THINGS, the two novels became "blended" in my mind. I am not sure if this earlier novel outright told of the selective breeding, or merely mentioned there were some "evil doings" going on with the Lord of the manor...but I'm pretty sure it actually told of the selective breeding. Beej
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (61 of 69), Read 34 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Ann Davey (davey@tconl.com) Date: Wednesday, July 19, 2000 09:53 PM Beej, Stegner absolutely excels at character development. Like Joe, the characters in his other books that I have read (Angel of Repose and Crossing to Safety) ring so true to life I feel like they could step off the page and shake my hand at any minute. All three of these books deal with marriage. Angel of Repose also has a parent's guilt at the loss of a child as one of its themes. Ann
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (62 of 69), Read 26 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Barbara Moors (bar647@aol.com) Date: Thursday, July 20, 2000 09:11 AM In addition to Stegner's insights into marriage, I think he's done a pretty spectacular job with the father/son relationship and a parent's reaction to a child's death. In my experience of it (not my own child, but my sister's oldest adolescent son), it's truly a wound that never heals. I tried to think of a less soap opera-sounding description, but nothing else fits just now. And, unfortunately, death comes when relationships are far from being resolved. In this case, it was Joe's only child, his only reflection of himself as a parent. I think that the pain is probably unimaginable. And, Joe's need to fix things and make them "right" would make it even worse. If Stegner had brought Joe to acceptance on this point, I would have thought less of the story as a whole. Ann, I thought that Astrid couldn't leave Denmark because of how enmeshed (is that a word?) she was in its history and her family. She seemed both ashamed and in love with her family in particular. The curtsy was a perfect moment, I thought, very poignant. Also, I don't think she could make up her mind to finally abandon her husband, leaving the country would do that. On the relationship thing, Dale and Steve, it took me about 20 years and 3 marriages to realize that total honesty is a prescription for disaster! But, in our case, believe it or not, my husband wants to talk more than I do...usually late at night, not right after he gets home from work. And, if you're thinking that there must then be a lot of talking going on in our house, you're right! Barb
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (63 of 69), Read 20 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Barbara Moors (bar647@aol.com) Date: Thursday, July 20, 2000 09:23 AM Ann's comment that Stegner did some of his best work after the age of 60 interests me. I picked up his collection of short stories (in Denver with CRs!) and only made it through the first few. They were good but just didn't grab me. However, they were placed chronologically and I'm thinking now that I should read the later ones. After we read Angle of Repose and Crossing to Safety on CR, I asked for other Stegner recommendations and Dale said that a friend told him that The Spectator Bird was most like those two. Makes sense since it was written between them. There's also another book between Spectator Bird and Crossing to Safety entitled Recapitulation. Any comments on that one? Also, has anyone here read his earlier writing? I've always wondered about The Big Rock Candy Mountain and that was written in 1943. Barb
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (64 of 69), Read 22 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Dale Short (dshort5005@aol.com) Date: Thursday, July 20, 2000 09:33 AM Barb: I haven't read BIG ROCK CANDY MOUNTAIN or RECAPITULATION, but a glance at some reviews tells me that the first is based in Stegner's rough upbringing on the frontier, with a sometimes cruel bootlegger father, and RECAPITULATION is a follow-up with many of the same characters. I do remember reading a book of essays by Stegner, most of them about the landscapes of the West, that were absolutely stunning. For my money, they were in the class of Edward Abbey's naturalist writing, which is about as good as it gets. Wish I could remember the title. >>Dale in Ala.
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (65 of 69), Read 18 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Dale Short (dshort5005@aol.com) Date: Thursday, July 20, 2000 09:48 AM Barb: Ah-hah! I found the title of the Stegner essays I was talking about... WHERE THE BLUEBIRD SINGS TO THE LEMONADE SPRINGS: Living and Writing in the West Beautiful, beautiful stuff. >>Dale in Ala.
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (66 of 69), Read 19 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Barbara Moors (bar647@aol.com) Date: Thursday, July 20, 2000 10:42 AM Was that the last thing he published, Dale? I've been curious about it before. Thanks for the recommendation. Looking in my Collected Stories edition, I found the following dedication: For Mary, in gratitude for fifty-three years of close collaboration and for patience beyond the call of duty After reading The Spectator Bird, this is not a dedication that I just breeze by. Barb
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (67 of 69), Read 19 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Dale Short (dshort5005@aol.com) Date: Thursday, July 20, 2000 10:46 AM Barb: I'm thinking you're right; WHERE THE BLUEBIRD SINGS has a publication date of 1993, which was the year of his death. May even have been posthumous, for all I know. I noticed in his bibliography that he and Mary co-edited a collection called GREAT AMERICAN SHORT STORIES. Sounds like, opposites that they were in many ways, they had a great working relationship, as well. >>Dale in Ala.
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (68 of 69), Read 16 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: David Moody (davidmoody@prodigy.net) Date: Thursday, July 20, 2000 01:16 PM Dale: I'm finding that "Where the Bluebird Sings" actually came out in 1992, a year before Stegner's death from complications due to an automobile accident. Wallace and Mary had one son, Page Stegner, who also collaborated on several works with them. Apparently, the family that writes together... A question for those who have also read Crossing to Safety: Stegner often throughout SB to "finding a safe place". Is that expanded upon in Crossing to Safety? David, now checking to see if his library has a biography of Stegner
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (69 of 69), Read 12 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Steve Warbasse (wk4@uswest.net) Date: Thursday, July 20, 2000 06:39 PM Gosh, I liked this novel. A lot. Those two final chapters coming in tandem as they do are splendid. In the penultimate one certainly the kiss and the curtsy are high points. The image that got to me most, however, was this one: At the last second, as the door was closing, I saw her put her hands to her head and bend over from the waist in a wild, abandoned movement as purely physical as if she were vomiting. She straightened, and I closed the door. A quick glimpse of real anguish that. I mentioned earlier the difference in the spirits of Joe and Ruth. Didn't this ending perfectly capture that? Ruth wants to go to the other side of the house optimistically confident that they may be able to see another lunar rainbow, something for which they have already used up their once-in-a-lifetime chance. Joe consents and goes, pessimistically confident there will not be one. Of course Joe is right, but this is a marvelous pairing, this couple. Oh, MAP, I have that other thing sorted out in my own mind. Clearly, these authors who get soaked are ones whom Joe admires very much and undoubtedly Stegner, too. Neither admires the work of authors who traffick in graphic sex, the very stuff which Césare Rulli apparently writes. So these books were put there simply to allow Césare the opportunity of sniffing at them contemptuously and thus give us another snippet of insight into him, insight that is not intended to be flattering. This became clear to me when I ran into this in the chapters I spoke of above: I could imagine how the Danish adventures of Joseph Allston would be written up by Césare Rulli, or by any of the machismo brigade, or by the Pleasure Principle seminar, or by any of those romantics, male and female, who live by the twitch. . . . Steve
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (70 of 100), Read 69 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Teresa Hess (tbrowninghess@utah-inter.net) Date: Friday, July 21, 2000 09:21 AM I've been on vacation, and return to see you've collectively said beautifully what I felt upon reading SB. I can't recall having read anything that approached Stegner's skill in describing the aging process (he nails it, time after time) or his explorations of the intricacies of the marital relationship. That said, I'm going to play the devil's advocate and say that the sections of the book that took place in Denmark did not resonate with me the way the "Joe and Ruth" sections did. Perhaps, picking up on Steve and Dale's thread, it is because I am a woman and am more interested in the relationship aspect of Joe's thoughts. And maybe it's because parts of the Denmark parts seemed artificial and contrived to me. A couple of thoughts...despite having been acquainted with Astrid for some time before learning of the genetic experimentation, Joe was for a brief period very quick to believe that she had been a willing participant with her father. His repugnance fairly dripped off the pages, and it struck me he was awfully quick to judge before knowing all the facts. How much did this aspect of his personality come into play in his relationship with his son? Coupled with the control issues you've already expressed so beautifully, I had to think that hairtrigger judgment and an unbending desire for control are a pretty deadly cocktail when dealing with one's children. Also, was anyone else struck by how much Ruth and Joe's relationship seemed to revolve around her need to nurture and his need to be nurtured? I like to think that he opted not to choose the Astrid path solely for the reasons he stated, his respect and love and enduring partnership with Ruth, but is it also tied up in his choosing the "safe" route over passion and the unknown? I'd love to hear your thoughts, Teresa
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (71 of 100), Read 62 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Dale Short (dshort5005@aol.com) Date: Friday, July 21, 2000 04:09 PM Welcome back, Teresa! Enjoyed your comments on TSB. As part of the LCO (Loyal Chromosomal Opposition) here, I have to add that all of the Denmark sections, no matter how bizarre, had the total ring of truth to me. (Maybe the Danish are the Southerners of Europe when it comes to bizarre and shameful family happenings being taken for granted.{G}) And one of the most exhilirating (and vicariously, physically painful) of the Denmark sections to me is when Joe, full well knowing better, takes Eilig up on his offer of a tennis game. Hard as I've tried not to, throughout my life, I've been there. And not even with as rewarding a pyrrhic victory as Joe's. So much rich stuff of life, and of honesty, in this book, for people of whatever age and gender. >>Dale in Ala.
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (72 of 100), Read 57 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: R Bavetta (rbavetta@prodigy.net) Date: Friday, July 21, 2000 06:39 PM What a great string of notes. I've only been away from a computer for a few days, and what a treat I find now. There are so many comments I'd like to make in response to so many well-worded notes, that I don't know where to begin. So I guess I won't begin, but will just address one thing---the title. I think that Joe himself is the Spectator Bird. It's not so much that he looks back on his life and regrets his choices, but that he looks back and realizes that he had choices, but he wasn't aware that he had them--that he just kind of rolled along with life, ad-libbing and reacting to what came, instead of taking charge, full steam ahead, of his own destiny. A spectator of his own life, more than a participant. Ruth, who also tends to be a Spectator Bird
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (73 of 100), Read 61 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Mary Anne Papale (mapreads@aol.com) Date: Friday, July 21, 2000 08:25 PM Steve, Thank you. I'm sure you're right about those authors. But now I have another question: I Cesare supposed to be any author we'd know? Or is he just a type? Metaphors be with you... MAP
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (74 of 100), Read 57 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Jane Niemeier (jniemeie@hotmail.com) Date: Saturday, July 22, 2000 02:27 PM Teresa, I enjoyed your note about Joe and Ruth's relationship. You mentioned that Joe stayed with Ruth because it was safer than going with passion and the unknown. It fits right in with the Spectator Bird part of Joe that Ruth mentioned also. Joe is one of those people who doesn't react well to change. At the risk of starting a full-scale war of the sexes here, I want to say that it is kind of nice that Joe chose to stay with his "safe" wife. How many of us know men who have dumped their wives of many years for some cute young thing (not that the countess is a cute young thing)? Jane
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (75 of 100), Read 60 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Dale Short (dshort5005@aol.com) Date: Saturday, July 22, 2000 02:37 PM Jane: I agree Joe made the right choice, but not just because Ruth was "safe"--though I'm sure that was part of it. He may have been judgmental and set in his ways, but throughout the book I see hints of an unusually rare kind of wisdom in Joe, as well. I think he knew and accepted that the grass was, is, and will always be greener on the other etc. I have seen many otherwise seemingly good marriages go down the tubes because one spouse or the other didn't realize, in the flush of whatever moment, that no flesh-and-blood relationship can ever live up to an untested fantasy. Joe seemed to know that intuitively. Good for him. >>Dale in Ala.
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (76 of 100), Read 55 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Ann Davey (davey@tconl.com) Date: Saturday, July 22, 2000 10:19 PM I think Joe chose to stay with Ruth because he knew it was the "right" thing to do. He wouldn't have been able to live with himself had he left her for Astrid. He was wise enough to know that. Integrity is very important to Stegner's characters. I like that about them. Joe was indeed a spectator bird but he recognized at the end how very lucky he was to find another bird to share his life with: It is something-it can be everything-to have found a fellow bird with whom you can sit among the rafters while drinking and boasting and reciting and fighting go on below; a fellow bird whom you can look after and find bugs and seeds for; one who will patch your bruises and straighten you ruffled feathers and mourn over your hurts when you accidentally fly into something you can't handle." Ann
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (77 of 100), Read 56 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Dale Short (dshort5005@aol.com) Date: Sunday, July 23, 2000 01:23 PM Ann: That's a beautiful paragraph, isn't it? I think Joe and Ruth are the most appealing characters I've met in many a year. For anybody who (like myself) craved some more of Stegner's wit and wisdom after SPECTATOR BIRD was over, I found a gem of a book by him on Amazon, ON THE TEACHING OF CREATIVE WRITING. It's basically an extended conversation, just 72 pages (and only $10), and I finished it in one gulp. Very satisfying, and gives some insight into his writing (and reading) life. >>Dale in Ala.
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (78 of 100), Read 59 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Barbara Moors (bar647@aol.com) Date: Sunday, July 23, 2000 01:37 PM Interesting observations, Teresa. I agree completely that Joe's willingness to judge Astrid before knowing all of the facts was pretty symbolic of the personality qualities that caused him problems as a parent. Excellent point...I'm a little surprised that I missed it! Joe and Ruth's marriage was certainly a traditional one. There were times when I felt myself recoiling a bit from her fussing over him, but then remembered how reciprocal it was the morning that the author was coming. It was one of those marriages that wouldn't work for me but it certainly worked for them. However, I don't think that Stegner was trying to imply that Ruth's care of Joe was his reason for not leaving for Astrid. If anything, Astrid was probably more of the same in that department. I think his decision had more to do with Stegner's theme of integrity that Dale mentioned. Personally, it took me a while to understand the rewards of a long marital relationship but I do think that Stegner wanted to celebrate that theme. Dale, thanks for mentioning the tennis game. Wasn't that a terrific scene? I loved watching the interaction of those two men. It caught the nature of competition as well as anything I've read in a long time. Barb
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (79 of 100), Read 56 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Kay Dugan (okaychatt@mindspring.com) Date: Sunday, July 23, 2000 06:16 PM I think Stegner is also celebrating the quiet respect Joe and Ruth have for each other and the life they have made together. That kind of marital appreciation and understanding is a rare bird.
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (80 of 100), Read 47 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Dale Short (dshort5005@aol.com) Date: Sunday, July 23, 2000 06:59 PM Kay: Amen, I say! When we were in our wild-eyed, hormonal teens and 20s, the notion of "quiet respect, appreciation, and understanding" being qualities of an ideal relationship would have struck most of us as ludicrous. But, I submit, from the very day we start to grasp our true mortality (and thereby, humanity), those qualities steadily become, to cop a line from Shakespeare, "a consummation devoutly to be wished." >>Dale in Ala.
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (81 of 100), Read 30 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Teresa Hess (tbrowninghess@utah-inter.net) Date: Monday, July 24, 2000 07:23 PM I didn't mean to imply in my post that Joe didn't make the right choice in staying with Ruth. Au contraire, it was refreshing to see a marital relationship treated with such respect and integrity. It's sad that that sort of commitment is rarely examined in modern literature, but it's also testament to Stegner's skill as a writer that we as Constant Readers are drawn to these characters and their relationship. Another question...I have been married to my second husband for 20 years now, and I know that many of you have longtime marriages. Does it seem strange to you that Ruth believed that Joe and Astrid may have had an affair all that time and never asked him directly about it? Perhaps I'm putting too personal a spin on this, but my husband is also my best friend and confidant. If there were a suspicion like that lurking in the back of my mind, the idea would ultimately affect our relationship whether I expressed it or not. I can't imagine not talking with him about it out in the open. Could it be that this is a generational thing, too? I know my parents don't discuss "personal stuff" the same way we do. Any thoughts on this? Teresa, sweltering in Salt Lake City at 103 degrees
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (82 of 100), Read 31 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Ann Davey (davey@tconl.com) Date: Monday, July 24, 2000 07:37 PM I can't imagine not asking either, Teresa. I can only guess that Ruth thought they probably had an affair, but didn't want it confirmed. On the other hand, many in their generation were pretty good at keeping skeletons in the closet. Ann
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (83 of 100), Read 27 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Steve Warbasse (wk4@uswest.net) Date: Monday, July 24, 2000 11:55 PM MAP, I have given your last question some thought, too. I am sure Stegner had someone in mind after whom he modeled Cesare, but I really cannot think of who that might be. Steve
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (84 of 100), Read 29 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: R Bavetta (rbavetta@prodigy.net) Date: Tuesday, July 25, 2000 12:17 AM This Ruth would have asked. Even if she thought it would be better if she shut up about it, she wouldn't be able to control herself. Ruth, who celebrated her 27th anniversary last Friday
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (85 of 100), Read 28 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Kay Dugan (okaychatt@mindspring.com) Date: Tuesday, July 25, 2000 06:02 AM Perhaps Ruth trusted Joe's integrity and knew him well enough to know he wouldn't betray her or their marriage. That allowed her to carry on in the marriage. And yet, she was intelligent, knew that such things do happen, wanted a "Yea" or "Nay" answer, and faced Joe with it when the opportunity arose. Her question to Joe actually allowed them to deepen their already rock solid foundation. Ruth's niggling of doubt was assuaged and Joe was able to close the door on his regret about the woman not taken.
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (86 of 100), Read 28 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Barbara Moors (bar647@aol.com) Date: Tuesday, July 25, 2000 06:13 AM I really think that it may have been a generational difference, Teresa. Also, though, they both were recovering from the death of their son at the time. Perhaps, Stegner thought that she wouldn't want to rock the emotional boat any more at that point. She sort of loved Astrid too. Maybe, that would make it easier for a character like Ruth to save her questions. Personally, I would have talked about it. Even if I'd tried to keep it to myself, a few glasses of wine would have loosened my tongue within a few months. Barb
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (87 of 100), Read 24 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Daniel LeBoeuf (dan1066@yahoo.com) Date: Tuesday, July 25, 2000 08:39 AM Teresa's question about Ruth not asking about Astrid is very interesting--but it does seem the tip of the iceberg here. For example--all this time passes and Ruth never knew these journals existed? They spend all that time in Denmark and Joe must of been scribbling something fierce--but Ruth sleeps through it all? Try to keep a journal from your spouse. Go ahead. Try to write while they snore and never, ever have them suddenly wake up, walk out to the area you are and question just what the heck are you doing at 3 in the morning. I mean--Ruth is one heavy sleeper, considering. And Joe is one secretive man. That's the one thing that really bothered me about this novel--the sudden introduction of Joe's "journals" into Ruth's cognizance. I'm not knocking this novel--not by a long shot--but I did find this "plot device" a little too convenient. Dan
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (88 of 100), Read 24 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Teresa Hess (tbrowninghess@utah-inter.net) Date: Tuesday, July 25, 2000 09:08 AM Good point, Dan. Maybe this was part of what made some of the Denmark sequences seem contrived to me. If one's husband is scribbling furiously away in a journal all the time, would you be a teensy weensy bit curious as to the content? And to be totally unaware of their existence, she would have had to be not just a heavy sleeper, but semi-comatose. Barb, your comment about Ruth being sort of in love with Astrid, too, is certainly thought-provoking, and makes a lot of sense to me. Maybe she was providing them both with something they needed at that point in time (still recovering from Curtis' death) and Ruth had an innate understanding of Joe's attraction to her. Teresa
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (89 of 100), Read 28 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Steve Warbasse (wk4@uswest.net) Date: Tuesday, July 25, 2000 08:57 AM I have already said that I like Joe and Ruth, and obviously everyone else here does, too. However, that may be a function in part of having gotten so well acquainted with them that we understand them. Actually, I don't think it would be much of a pleasure being around Joe. He is not aging gracefully. He is subject to depression. He is isolating himself. He is a whiner and a grumbler increasingly closed off from anything new. He is clearly dissatisfied and unhappy with his life. He fell into his profession but did not love it. He fell into everything else, too, and has done nothing but meet his resulting "obligations." He has been a spectator in life, as the title implies and as he himself says so often. No, I don't think Joe would be pleasurable company at this stage. All the rightness of his staying with Ruth aside, I think it was entirely out of character for him to make a U-turn and drive through that beautiful tunnel of trees a second time. It was spontaneous and impulsive. I don't think he would have done it if only Ruth had been with him. It was Astrid's company that inspired him to do that, and it was Astrid who appreciated it the most. It's entirely possible that he would have become a better man with Astrid in contrast to the man is. Ruth is simply a caretaker. She is unable to inspire him to undertake any of the things he has missed, and she always has been that way. Ruth is another obligation he fell into, and the "two old birds" quotation means nothing more than that she has been an amiable if uninspiring companion. Steve
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (90 of 100), Read 24 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Steve Warbasse (wk4@uswest.net) Date: Tuesday, July 25, 2000 09:14 AM A scene that troubles me. This from Ruth: "I decided that even if I was only your obligation I'd rather be your obligation than your ex-wife." That's unsettling enough even without Joe's response, but what is his response? It seemed a good idea to kiss her. . . . Even a kiss is an obligation for Joe, except for that one time twenty years ago. Steve
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (91 of 100), Read 25 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Steve Warbasse (wk4@uswest.net) Date: Tuesday, July 25, 2000 09:22 AM Well, there's no "maybe" about it, Teresa. Ruth: "No. She was remarkable. I'm not. If you hadn't fallen at least a little bit in love with her I'd have thought there was something wrong with you." She laughed, a little breathy puff of sound. "Then when I saw you were doing it, I couldn't stand it." Of course, Ruth is absolutely right. Joe passed up a remarkable woman to stay with an unremarkable one. Astrid was by no means simply a young bimbo. This is exactly what Joe did in every other aspect of his life, too. And he is not a happy man now. Steve
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (92 of 100), Read 17 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Steve Warbasse (wk4@uswest.net) Date: Tuesday, July 25, 2000 10:09 AM Forgive my seams bursting. I couldn't take it any longer. To say, "Good ole Joe didn't run off with the other woman; he stuck it out; and everyone was the better for it" is to ignore the real complexity of this novel. What exactly does "integrity" mean? It is one of the most difficult words in the English language to get a handle on, and I agree that the meaning of this word has everything to do with the meaning of this novel. Moreover, to say, "the grass is always greener on the other side" in the sense that is usually offered is to ignore the simple fact that many times the grass is greener over there, as many, many here present have discovered in the marital context. I wonder whether another of Aesop's fables isn't more apt when considering this novel--the one about the fox and the sour grapes. Steve
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (93 of 100), Read 14 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Dale Short (dshort5005@aol.com) Date: Tuesday, July 25, 2000 10:39 AM Steve: Many excellent points, I think, about the dark underside of a relationship such as Ruth's and Joe's. I think that spin in the car under the tunnel of trees was the happiest moment of Joe's life, and in some senses it was all downhill from there: It is a fine thing to be admired by two attractive women on a spring day, with the top down. I felt like boxing my ankles. Shucks, girls, it was nothing. Velkommen, countess. Glad to do it. I think that almost anybody, of a certain age and with a full emotional life, has a "what if," road-not-taken scenario that would make them bitter, or crazy, or both, if they dwelled on it. I know I do. Joe is a dweller. Of whatever emotional growth I've managed to eke out, in almost a half century, I think the most valuable is that (at least most of the time) I'm able to compartmentalize my "dwelling" into my fiction, and thus stay relatively sane and pleasant. Dan'l: I have to be a dissenter, here, on the journal business. Lots of people, writers and non-writers alike, keep a journal. Jo Lynn keeps a daily one, I keep a sporadic one. I would never think to read hers, or vice versa. I'm not a principled person in some contexts, but that one's an ironclad to me. Also, I think there's the common sense to know that--even with the subject of infidelity aside--any surprises would likely not be pleasant ones. Make any sense? >>Dale in Ala.
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (94 of 100), Read 11 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Barbara Moors (bar647@aol.com) Date: Tuesday, July 25, 2000 11:38 AM Really interesting points here, Steve. What makes it even more fascinating to me is that I truly think Stegner was celebrating long marriages. I don't mean that I think that The Spectator Bird was autobiographical. However, my little bit of reading of Stegner's essays makes me think that he was fairly conservative in his beliefs, wasn't favorably disposed toward some aspects of the 60's, opposed progress where it disturbed the land and valued integrity enormously. However, he also seems to have been a student of life and I absolutely agree with you that Joe would have been a pain in the ass to live with and that Ruth did far too much ineffectual fluttering around him. Stegner certainly does seem to be playing with the "What if?" idea of how different stimulation would have effected Joe, then returns him to the status quo...but was it the status quo then? Can you tell that I'm thinking out loud here? There's basically this question of what is added and what is taken away from a life by committing to one relationship. In my youth, I felt very disdainful of couples who stayed together just to be staying together. They still bother me if they just grow into a blob or lead two separate lives united only by their marriage license. However, I must say that I like the results of sticking with a relationship that challenges me for 23 years. And, that leads me meandering on to the next point...did Stegner think that this long marriage was worth celebrating only for its longevity? Did he think they actually were challenging each other a bit? Or was it good enough for him that they took care of each other, provided a safe haven? Or, am I wrong in my initial supposition, was he actually celebrating it at all? Barb
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (95 of 100), Read 9 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: R Bavetta (rbavetta@prodigy.net) Date: Tuesday, July 25, 2000 12:10 PM I have kept a daybook/journal/sketchbook for almost 30 years. Leif has never picked it up. The kids were never interested enough to poke. Who cares what the old fogeys of the house scribble. But what bothers me about journals in novels, is not their existence, but their perfection. It bothered me in SB, and also it's bothering me in The Manticore, which I'm now reading. I mean, my journal is a mess. Crossings out, awkward sentences where I start one thought and get waylaid into another. Repetitions. Sentences left hanging when the teakettle boiled. I think if we can swallow the perfection of the journal, swallowing that Ruth didn't know it existed is a mere tidbit. Ruth
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (96 of 100), Read 9 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: R Bavetta (rbavetta@prodigy.net) Date: Tuesday, July 25, 2000 12:14 PM Having had a 16 year marriage where we (I love that phrase Barb) ended up united only by the marriage license, and a 27 year marriage which is still going strong. I'd say there's a lot of merit in the idea of longevity as a positive thing in and of itself. You grow into each other. You complement each other. The togetherness feeds upon itself and increases the joy of togetherness. Joe would be giving this up if he went with Astrid. And maybe at this point in his life, altho he may regret having been a spectator bird, he realizes it may be too late for him to change, and maybe, under all his posturing, he really doesn't want to change. Ruth
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (97 of 100), Read 7 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Daniel LeBoeuf (dan1066@yahoo.com) Date: Tuesday, July 25, 2000 12:16 PM Dale: Right--but you know the existence of such journals and your spouse knows you keep some. You don't have to read them--you just know they are being kept. My point is that Ruth has no idea at all that Joe kept a journal of his time in Denmark. She's able to keenly discern his interest in Astrid, but she does not even notice he's spending entire nights (and let's face it--some of that "journal writing" would take quite a while to get it so smooth and natural and literate)scribbling furiously. So years later, she "discovers" Joe kept a journal of the whole Denmark ordeal. She is pleasantly surprised, but geeze... If Ruth sleeps that hard, then Joe and Astrid could have shared the bed with her without Ruth ever knowing. I think Ruth has a sleep-disorder. Dan
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (98 of 100), Read 10 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Daniel LeBoeuf (dan1066@yahoo.com) Date: Tuesday, July 25, 2000 12:24 PM It took a minute, but now I'm pondering Steve's take on this novel. Joe as a tragic figure--a tale told well after the action and meant to illustrate the dangers of passivity when it comes to passion. Look, Dear Reader, look what has become of Joe. I'm looking--and it don't seem so bad or pathetic. Joe does not bear Ruth any latent hostility, seems to rather enjoy the way his life turned out as well as the company he is with. What bothers him the most is that there is no one after him. He's the last of the family line, because of Curtis's death. Here is my life, these are my journals, but death is imminent. Joe is just going through the stages of a dying man. He looks back on his career, he looks back on the "roads not taken," he looks at where and who he is now. I think this is what Stegnor was really aiming for and not some sort of tragic or pathetic portrayal of a man too stupid to carpe diem and who must bear the pain of the difference it could have made. Dan
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (99 of 100), Read 14 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Dale Short (dshort5005@aol.com) Date: Tuesday, July 25, 2000 12:16 PM Barb: Your questions remind me of Faulkner's great Nobel speech, that the human spirit "not only will endure, but will prevail." I think that's what Joe and Ruth have done, but I believe Stegner leaves it up to us to decide whether the trade-off is worth it...every form of refuge, after all, having its price. I'm saddened by the few older couples I know who are united only in their bitterness. On the other hand, with every passing day the safe haven approach looks better and better to me. I think one of the main impacts of THE SPECTATOR BIRD, aside from its beauty as a story, is to make us look in our own mirror regarding that question. But then, I'm thinking out loud too. {G} >>Dale in Ala.
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (100 of 100), Read 14 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Dale Short (dshort5005@aol.com) Date: Tuesday, July 25, 2000 12:20 PM Dan: Ah! Excellent point. I'd forgotten that particular detail. I want to get a prescription for Ruth's sleep medication. {G} >>Dale in Ala.
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (101 of 115), Read 62 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Dale Short (dshort5005@aol.com) Date: Tuesday, July 25, 2000 04:28 PM Barb: Yes, the tennis game! My closest equivalent of Joe's and Eilig's match was many years ago when I played racquetball. I had to interview the new Alabama racquetball champ (a teaching pro, and at least 10 years younger than me) for a newspaper article, and after our talk he asked if I wanted to play a short game. I figured it would be good experience for the article (I told myself) and agreed. He beat me 15 to 1, and I was more proud of my one point than anything I'd done in a long time. Afterward, he asked if I'd like a critique of my game. I said sure, and that I wanted him to be totally honest. "You're hell off the front wall," he said. "Your front court game is excellent. Your back court game leaves a lot to be desired. And your knowledge of strategy is virtually nonexistent." Brilliant kid. Not only did he peg my racquetball game, but the whole story of my life. {G} >>Dale in Ala.
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (102 of 115), Read 55 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Ann Davey (davey@tconl.com) Date: Tuesday, July 25, 2000 05:28 PM Steve, Good point about Joe being a difficult person to live with. Chronic depressives usually are, and he definitely had those tendencies. However, do you really think he would have been happier with Astrid, considering all all the baggage she carried? Here is a woman whose father's hobby was tracking the results of his incestuous relationships in a stud book. Her brother was just as bad or worse, producing children with his half-sister and then having sex with one of their daughters. By almost any standards, this was a very sick family. Astrid could not have emerged unscathed. Then there is the little matter of her being married to a quisling and the fact that she was completely ostracized by her fellow townspeople. No, Astrid might have been beautiful and pure as the driven snow, but she undoubtedly had many "issues" (as my kids like to say), which would complicate any relationship. But, for the sake of argument, let's say Astrid did offer Joe an opportunity for greater happiness. Would that justify ditching Ruth, who seems to have been an exemplary spouse? Ann, who loves it when you drop these bombs
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (103 of 115), Read 59 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Pres Lancaster (plancast@slip.net) Date: Tuesday, July 25, 2000 06:48 PM Which of the following is correct ? a) Joe and Ruth have an active companionship or b) Joe and Ruth have a not-so-comfortable relationship based on their shared past. pres, fictional marriage counselor
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (104 of 115), Read 54 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: R Bavetta (rbavetta@prodigy.net) Date: Tuesday, July 25, 2000 07:51 PM Joe and Ruth have a sometimes companionship, with not-so-comfortable moments, based on their shared past. Ruth
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (105 of 115), Read 61 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Dale Short (dshort5005@aol.com) Date: Tuesday, July 25, 2000 08:08 PM Pres: Woh! Cutting to the chase, here, are you? Not trying to waffle (well, somewhat), but it seems to me that your A and B are points on a continuum between which Joe and Ruth live their lives, which could be (a) a lot worse, (b) a lot better. I would like to think (a giveaway phrase, that) that on good days Joe and Ruth achieve A, and at their worst B. The rest is in between, I think, with blessed "epiphanies" at various points, which are, when they are given, very instructive. (Not only in this novel, but in real life.) Could they both have done better? Well, maybe. But that's the whole question of why we're here, isn't it? I salute them, and I salute the continuum. And most of all, I thank all these people on CR who have contributed to possibly the most complex and invigorating exchange I've participated in since the Book of Job--which, as I recall, lasted maybe half a year and took no prisoners. {g} >>Dale in Ala.
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (106 of 115), Read 56 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Kay Dugan (okaychatt@mindspring.com) Date: Tuesday, July 25, 2000 07:59 PM I fall on the "Joe and Ruth have an active companionship " side. Whether we approve or disapprove of them as individuals or as a couple, the fact is, THEY are very contented with their marriage. Whatever the relationship is, it has worked for them, and neither would want it any different. Joe is a tad cranky, but he handles his perspective with humor. He has a good self understanding. Prime examples: When Joe is talking with the dr., he says, "I have never needed many people around. I always had more than I wanted. A few friends are enough. There are lots of perfectly pleasant people whom I like, but if I don't see them I don't miss them....When the work ended, most of the people ended, all but the handful that meant something. Maybe that's alarming, but that's the way I am." He's working hard "to quit being a sissy about growing old," and jokingly refers to the "symptoms of retirementitis." I also think his depth is reflected in his empathy for Edith and Tom Patterson. He also is "...tempted to pass on to breathless posterity ...that anything is possible at any time." These are not the musings of a lifeless, confused man. I understand why Ruth loves him so much, and why he loves her. He may be a spectator of most of the world, but the parts of it he engages with make for a rich inner life.
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (107 of 115), Read 56 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Jane Niemeier (jniemeie@hotmail.com) Date: Tuesday, July 25, 2000 08:36 PM Dan, I don't agree about the journals. I have been married 30 years, and my husband and I have such different schedules that he could be writing entire novels when he gets up at 2:45 in the morning, and I wouldn't know the difference. I know that Joe started the journal when Ruth was flat on her back on the ship. He also talked about writing when she was out with Astrid or when she was asleep. If a person has those habits, the other spouse thinks nothing of it. Steve, I don't agree with you about Astrid. Ann said what I want to say, about Astrid probably not being such a prize. I think that if Joe had gotten to know her very well, he wouldn't have wanted to deal with all of her "issues" as Ann said. I don't know that Joe was that depressed. Kay made a good point about his sense of humor. He said some pretty funny things that upset Ruth. I think that is just his way of facing life. As I said, he reminds me a lot of my own husband. Joe has a very dark sense of humor. Jane
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (108 of 115), Read 57 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Ann Davey (davey@tconl.com) Date: Tuesday, July 25, 2000 10:21 PM I liked what you said about the continuum in Joe and Ruth's relationship, Dale. What I especially appreciate about Stegner's perspective on marriage is that he doesn't go for the good guy/bad guy scenario when he describes the partners. Neither spouse is perfect, but each tries to do the best he or she can within the limitations imposed by his or her personality. In ANGLE OF REPOSE, my personal favorite, the result may be tragedy, but the author leaves me with a sense of understanding, as opposed to blame. In SPECTATOR BIRD, a book with a happier ending, Joe also has his failings. As Kay pointed out, these are mitigated by the fact that he has considerable insight into them. But Ruth isn't perfect either. At times she is such a nag I just want to shake her and tell her to give it a rest. And yet both husband and wife do the best they can. In their case, the best is pretty darn good. Ann
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (109 of 115), Read 46 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Steve Warbasse (wk4@uswest.net) Date: Wednesday, July 26, 2000 05:42 AM I was just trying to express this ambivalence I have developed after pondering this book and even going back and rereading passages. I haven't really completely come off my initial reaction, which was that Joe and Ruth are good people and I envy their long term marriage. I do think this is a celebration of a long term marriage, but it is a reserved celebration--or a realistic one. But let me list some things that trouble me about them. 1. Joe has a great deal of trouble simply being happy and always has. The symptoms of failing vigor, the oncoming of age, have put me right back to where I was in 1954--which--come to think of it, was about where I was in 1924. 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. 2. Ruth did not wish to hear the journal read to share reminiscences. She had only one objective. She caught me by surprise. Normally she isn't much interested in all these papers she keeps me working at. So long as I disappear after breakfast, she can feel that she has done her duty and propped me up so that I can hold my own against deterioration. Bur of course she would be interested in any diary I kept in Denmark, and of course, for related reasons, I was not eager to read it to her, at least not until I had gone through it myself. * * * "Of course, I see, you wouldn't have put that down." "Put what down?" "What we were finally going to talk out." 3. Conversely, Joe is clearly not interested in anything that interests Ruth. 4. One must get a little tired of Joe's "crumbling cookie." When we laboriously went through the Britannica article on rheumatoid arthritis, I started to get fatigued with that aspect of his personality. Of course getting old is not for sissies, but. . .but. . .this is not a healthy approach to it. I really am not advocating that Joe should have dumped Ruth and ran off with Astrid, Jane. I just wish he had met and married Astrid first because they seem better equipped to deal constructively with each others' issues instead of perpetuating them. Our last view of Astrid bending over as if vomiting strikes me as the reaction of a person who has met the one (the one we all look for) and is dealing with the fact they will never be together. Joe's reaction to the memory of her indicates to me that he had met the one, too. However, timing is everything in this life. Steve
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (110 of 115), Read 48 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Kay Dugan (okaychatt@mindspring.com) Date: Wednesday, July 26, 2000 06:14 AM But Steve, when Joe was reading that article about arthritis, he was making an attempt to meet life head on, armed with whatever knowledge he could find. It was a "just the facts, ma'am" kind of approach. As far as Astrid goes, is it possible that though she was the one she wasn't the right one for him? A marriage is more than passion and fervent desire to be with each other. For me, the real gems of a relationship are found in the quiet solidity that comes from knowing you are loved and cared deeply for, and that you feel the same for your spouse. I think I would enjoy being one of Joe's few true friends.
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (111 of 115), Read 36 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Steve Warbasse (wk4@uswest.net) Date: Wednesday, July 26, 2000 08:52 AM Kay, Maybe. Anything's possible. Steve
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (112 of 115), Read 33 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Beej Connor (connorva@mindspring.com) Date: Wednesday, July 26, 2000 08:58 AM I was of the impression it was Astrid who refused to go with Joe...not the other way around. Beej
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (113 of 115), Read 27 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Beej Connor (connorva@mindspring.com) Date: Wednesday, July 26, 2000 09:08 AM Okay, I am going to be the catalyst here...I see Joe as a very nice man who is so totally afraid of any sort of passion that he is willing to die having a life of obligations on which to reflect. he is a creature of comfort and says, himself, his life with Ruth has no (emotional) mountains, but only knolls. it is easier for him to remain a "spectator bird" than to scale those mountains. I admire his fortitude in this marriage, but is obligation enough to make it all worth it? I dont know... Beej
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (114 of 115), Read 19 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Steve Warbasse (wk4@uswest.net) Date: Wednesday, July 26, 2000 09:49 AM That's kinda what I was saying, Beej. If that's what you have opted for, then quit bitching about it. Still, back to what Kay was saying, I am not so sure it's so great to find the one. Certainly, it ain't good if the timing is bad, as it was here. All in all, I think Joe is sincere in his statement that he would have regretted the loss of Ruth every day of his life but only thinks of Astrid now and again. Maybe. Then again maybe he was just saying what was called for in the circumstances. That's what I would have done. Steve
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (115 of 115), Read 11 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Beej Connor (connorva@mindspring.com) Date: Wednesday, July 26, 2000 12:13 PM (I was bitching? I was? Whoops, certainly didn't mean to bitch LOL) After reading the journals, Joe says: "The performance I had just put on left me alarmed about my own unacknowledged possibilities. If the truth were told, and I suppose it had better be, I wanted to be alone for awhile with that possibility I had renounced, or had been made to renounce, twenty years before and carried around with me like a cyst ever since." A cyst? Hardly something you only think of every now and then. Sounds to me like Astrid got in a little deeper than that. . Beej
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (116 of 150), Read 69 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Dale Short (dshort5005@aol.com) Date: Wednesday, July 26, 2000 02:01 PM Beej: Ahem. I think Steve was referring to Joe's bitching about his lot in life. I haven't noticed any CR bitching on this thread at all... {G} >>Dale in Ala.
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (117 of 150), Read 73 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Beej Connor (connorva@mindspring.com) Date: Wednesday, July 26, 2000 02:06 PM (Oh! I guess I hear the word "bitch" and automatically think its referring to me!LOLOL) Beej
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (118 of 150), Read 67 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Steve Warbasse (wk4@uswest.net) Date: Wednesday, July 26, 2000 04:38 PM Beej, you actually think I would refer to you as a bitch or accuse you of bitching? This hurt me, Beej, that you would even for a second think such a thing! My eyes have wet up as a matter of fact. Let me add a disclaimer to my previous remarks that may go a long way toward explaining why my impressions of the novel differed a bit. I am a complete cipher when it comes to the subject of marriage. I don't know what makes a good one or a bad one. I have no idea how couples manage it even half way successfully for a few months let alone for like decades! The whole idea of the thing bewilders me. I know nothing reliable about the subject. Let me get this straight. The idea is that one takes a solemn vow forever to cherish the other one no matter how much of an ass the other one turns out to be? Moreover, this solemn vow also includes a promise that each will only have sex with the other one and nobody else until one of them dies???? Is that the gist of the basics of it? Take all of my remarks on Joe and Ruth's marriage with that grain of salt. Steve
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (119 of 150), Read 64 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Dale Short (dshort5005@aol.com) Date: Wednesday, July 26, 2000 05:23 PM Steve & All: Thinking out loud again, here... One reason I look upon Joe's and Ruth's very imperfect union less negatively than I would otherwise is the fact that they both bring many crucial pieces to this massive puzzle of staying together for so long a time. In other words, in a variety of social situations, they both have invaluable skills and can give one another tit for tat. Unlike several elderly couples I know, in which one partner is SO outspoken, garrulous, verbal, controlling, etc., that his/her mate becomes in effect a mere shadow in social situations, expected only to smile/frown/shrug at the proper moment, if that much. I have never heard that phenomenon so well put as by a comedian who called it the "Ventriloquist Syndrome." To roughly paraphrase: On the rare occasions when somebody asks him a question, she jumps in to answer before he has a chance. And at that point, I'm thinking, Why doesn't she just practice putting her arm up his a** and working him like a ventroliquist, so at least his mouth is moving during the answer? A somewhat extreme example, I know, but it sure had relevance for me. >>Dale in Ala.
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (120 of 150), Read 65 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Candy Minx (candyminx@hotmail.com) Date: Wednesday, July 26, 2000 07:09 PM All, this last bunch of entries really has me thinking. I am completely blown away by your posts Steve. I did not not like the 'care-giver aspects of Ruth. I thought they were controlling. But I also was thinking of the posts from many here who appreciated the care and conversations ruth and Joe shared. I was not enamoured by Astrid, I found her kinda scary but then when you find out about her past she comes out a little more accessible. I have aterrible feeling you might be onto something here about these people. I wish I had my copy with me because I remember there was a clue to the tone the novle was going to take and I forgot to clip it out. I'll look next week when I can get to a library and I'm off the road. I am really getting the feeling that this novel is a subtle criticsm of this kind of passivity in many marriages and worse in many lives. I was fairly disturbed by his attitude to his son and this aspect distracted me from taking much interest in the marriage angle on the story. In fact 'the marriage' ezaminations I didnto find that interesting(perhaps because I'm single partly because I believe one should get hooked up with THE ONE not anyone else). The act of Astrids buckling over was one of the most realistic moments I thought. And I forgotten about him referring to the cyst. I am definately going to have to read this again and I think Stegner might have been making a stand against the kind of relationship and definition of marriage as a 'safe place' that many of us are raised and conditioned to think is 'enough'. You've really freaked me out with these ideas and insights. I am totally re-thinking this book. I don't think he had to go with Astrid per say but I did think at times maybe his life needed some kind of change. I still like it that he was involved with nature, but if I can move beyond how much I felt bummed by his bad attitude with his kid I shall be able to think a bit differently about Stegners opinion of this marriage. Very insightful posts Steve. Candy
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (121 of 150), Read 71 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Beej Connor (connorva@mindspring.com) Date: Wednesday, July 26, 2000 09:40 PM Candy, please let me help you with your understanding of Joe and Curtis..in the book ALL THE LITTLE LIVE THINGS, it explains that Curtis was approaching middle age when he died. He was not a "kid". He truly was a bum. He had total disregard for anything good in his life, and the only thing he was truly proficient at, was not ever , ever finishing one constructive thing he started. He was every bit the "mess" Joe implies. No exaggerations there. Everything his parents attempted to do to help this man, were scraped off the bottom of his emotional "shoe" and left on the sidewalk without a backward glance. As for marriage...you say you have never been married, well I have(actually a couple times lol) and please let me assure you, that even in a marriage that has grown lackluster at times, it is a Godsend to go into the arms of somebody who loves you, no matter what, when the rest of the world takes a big nasty crap on you. Beej
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (122 of 150), Read 70 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Kay Dugan (okaychatt@mindspring.com) Date: Wednesday, July 26, 2000 09:51 PM Having parented two children and survived the teen age years, I can identify a little with Joe's dilemma. Most kids go through a rebellious stage where they question everything you say, do, and stand for. It's how they grow up and learn where they stand. They have to pull away before they can understand what kind of people they are. That is not an easy time for any parent, at least it wasn't for me. Part of the time I was hurt. Part of the time I was worried. Part of the time I was flat out angry. But I always, always, always, loved them. I'm guessing Joe experienced many of the same emotions. But he and his son never got the chance to work things through. Plus, Joe is nagged with the question of whether his child hated him and the world Joe lived in so much that his son may have executed the ultimate revenge, and killed himself. I am sure Joe didn't handle his son's rebellion well. But how many of us do? I think Joe did the best he knew how. , who wants to cut Joe a little slack.
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (123 of 150), Read 37 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Steve Warbasse (wk4@uswest.net) Date: Thursday, July 27, 2000 06:48 AM Kay, if I know nothing about marriage, I know less than nothing about parenting. In fact whenever I hear the word "parenting," I get this vague, queasy feeling of being disoriented in time and space. You'll get no argument from me. I am willing to cut anybody slack in this area. Candy, isn't the psycho-babble word for Ruth "enabling?" (Gosh, I found a way to use the word "parenting" and the word "enabling" in one post!) Still and again, I am not really disagreeing with others' assessment of this marriage. I am just saying that this novel is much more complex than it first appears. While I am in my idiot savant mode, let me iterate Warbassian lame literary theory No. 13. Stegner's intentions have nothing to do with this. If he were still around, God rest his soul, he would be the last person to have any idea what we're talking about. Great writers have this talent for tapping into their own subconscious and then stringing words together beautifully describing what bubbles up. However, they are nearly invariably totally ignorant of the meaning of what they have written. This is one reason they are so boring and disappointing when one sees them speak in person. This is not Stegner's novel anymore. He gave it to us, and therefore, it's ours to make of it what we will. In the meantime please be careful on the road, Candy. It's a jungle out there. Return safely and tell me more about how insightful I am. Steve
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (124 of 150), Read 38 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Kay Dugan (okaychatt@mindspring.com) Date: Thursday, July 27, 2000 08:17 AM Steve- I just think we have different takes on Joe's personality and his marriage. When you describe Ruth as an "enabler," do you mean she allowed Joe to mope, whine, and be generally unhappy? I do see those traits in him. It's just that I also see a healthy humor from Joe that provides a balance. I see a lot of give and take in their marriage, and a genuine love and affection for each other. Isn't it interesting how each reader can project his/her own perspectives onto the characters in this novel? You're so right about how a novel becomes the reader's.
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (125 of 150), Read 37 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Sherry Keller (shkell@earthlink.net) Date: Thursday, July 27, 2000 08:26 AM Steve, I think your Warbassian Theory #13 hits the nail on the head. I found TSB a moving, realistic portrait of a long marriage. But that's my take on it, and one that validates my own personal experience of a long marriage. There will always be "what ifs" in any long-term engagement, whether it's a job, living in the same house, a marriage. That you could find a different kind of truth in TSB demonstrates the greatness of Stegner's writing. Sherry
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (126 of 150), Read 29 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: David Moody (davidmoody@prodigy.net) Date: Thursday, July 27, 2000 06:48 AM Just pulling the thread over to the left. Seeing how Joe and Ruth interact has helped me understand how my parents could stay together for 53 years despite what seems to my peaceable mind to be constant squabbling. David
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (127 of 150), Read 25 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Steve Warbasse (wk4@uswest.net) Date: Thursday, July 27, 2000 08:24 AM That's exactly what I meant,Kay, but that's not entirely fair either. She did try to get him to go discuss books with the folks at the care center. Isn't that the truth, David! Mine have been married for some 55 years, and my puzzled view of it is much the same as your. Steve
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (128 of 150), Read 26 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Barbara Moors (bar647@aol.com) Date: Thursday, July 27, 2000 08:44 AM Steve's theory #13 (interesting number) is what truly knocks me out about this whole discussion. I am positive that Stegner, the man, had infinite respect for long, enduring marriages. It fascinates me that this story has such a life of its own, apart from anything Stegner might have intended. Beej, I really appreciate your note about All the Little Live Things, Stegner's earlier book about Joe and Ruth. I need to somehow squeeze that one in this summer. The information about the son makes things clearer in that department. I think one of the most difficult factors in a parent/child relationship occurs when one of them dies before they at least address those kinds of "issues" (sorry, couldn't think of another word). Everyone sort of trails along in an unfinished state. Barb
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (129 of 150), Read 29 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Candy Minx (candyminx@hotmail.com) Date: Thursday, July 27, 2000 10:01 AM Hmm, all kinds of challenging things are here today with this book. I agree that the intent and the model that an author gives in a book becomes its own identity, for sure Steve and you make a good point. Thanks Beej, for pointing out some other aspects of the family life from previous stories, believe me I will look up more Stegner in the next few weeks. I will even look up a person to fall into arms with ha ha on your vivid description of how it helps when the world craps on you, maybe I better get hooked up huh? Sounds like a good deal. I could be projecting my ideals on these characters for sure, I try not to but you know we just do. I like to look at the book and books in general without trying to forcefeed my ideals of life onto it and see what is there to be learned. I am a parent and maybe thats what bothered me about Joes attitudes and disappointments. I havent read the 'history' provided by Stegner in his other stories about Curtis. But this still offers a way to think about children and life and how we choose to live it. From The Spectator Bird, I would say that I actually LIKED the sound of Curtiss life. I am guessing that he must have bee a real mess from other stories and did some unforgivable things was it drugs? was it cruelty to others I am imagining from Beejs post)In Spectator Bird, Curtis sounds very interesting, athletic, nature loving, socialble and a person who liked the simple pleasures in life. Not carreer ambitious like his parents. He sounds like the kind of person who was 'counter culture. Who was displaced from mainstream culture, a flanuer a hippie/punkmaybe even a failed artsy type. We all know those kinds of people where the status quo just never felt right to them. And I think what we see in Spectator Bird is that kind of 'generation gap' that existed in those years in North America. I have known a lot of people like the Cirtis character and they always felt like their parents hated them, and it was interesting to read a book that came from the parents side of things rather than the famous novels like On The Road or KenKesey books of that era that reflected life from a Curtis type of character. I don't know during those parent parts of Spectator Bird I kept thinking 'wow the paranoia of the counter culture was real, their parents DID hate them!'. The Curtis generation had a really hard time finding their place in a world they were never ever happy with and no guidance from their elders or values they could believe in as they didnt believe in the idea of money makes the world go around, or consummerism or a slave to the establishment. On a personal and even funny note my dad retired a couple years ago and we have had some laughs because he now lives like I do. I have always lived a hard working sure but still an artists life. I wasn't as exciting as a hippie but I definately live like an artist and enjoy a different way of living than my parents have. Now he has more time and tries to be a little creative and spends his day oddly like I do. I think he may have come to understand some of the decisions I made of how to live when I was young and he wanted me to be ambitious in a way he could understand rather than ambitious in the way I worked as an artist. A professional decision my parents could not grasp when I was 22 or 23. Art school!!! How are you going to pay the rent ha ah! I have tried to cut Joe some slack, and I did think he was funny and charming at times. I just think if we expect our kids to be grown ups by the time they are 21 then shouldn't we be grown ups and come to terms with how they live by the time they are 21 too?! If Curtis was middle aged when he died Joe sure held a grudge for 15 years after he turned 21 then!!!! At least according to the info we get in Spectator Bird. Some one made a good point about the 'road not taken' earlier sorry I can't remember who that was, and I agree that is a real part of life and it doesn't mean we have to beat ourselves up over that exercise. It's a good exercise and helps us understand where we are today. I really don't think Joe would have been 'happier' if he had hooked up with Astrid. I think the point really is how happy and full filled was he by HOW HE CHOSE TO live, his values in general. His definition of love and marriage in general. I think we are to question that and I think the writer intended us to question that, by the mere fact he called the bookwhat he did. In many ways that is a negative assessment of the character and defines the writers intent. Even if we agree that the writers intent and success is left up to the evaluation of the readers. The term Spectator is an anti-life term. It is not involved it is restrained from passion and action. Action is what defines us. We have to take into account the idea that the writer has already labeled him before we start the story. I don't know, I am thinking out loud. TOL.
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (130 of 150), Read 32 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Candy Minx (candyminx@hotmail.com) Date: Thursday, July 27, 2000 10:21 AM Hey, someone mentioned the story Damage on another thread and I just thought hey, Steve this in some ways would be a good comparrison for TSB and some of your posts. It's like the story Damage is the worst case scenario for what can happen if one follows ones heart or the path not taken. In fact Damage is all the reasons to stay in a safe place!!!ha ha it's almost like a horror story. There is a dead son, there is another woman there is a struggle to understand passion. Just another thought.
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (131 of 150), Read 28 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Dale Short (dshort5005@aol.com) Date: Thursday, July 27, 2000 10:49 AM Candy: Interesting contrast, THE SPECTATOR BIRD and DAMAGE. I'd also throw into the mix FATAL ATTRACTION, one of my all-time favorite movies. I have a friend who says his wife makes their videotape of it required viewing before he or she goes out of town on business. {G} >>Dale in Ala.
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (132 of 150), Read 29 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Theresa Simpson (theresa.a.simpson@gte.net) Date: Thursday, July 27, 2000 10:54 AM I haven't had a chance to read this one, but have been following the thread anyway. I think "spectator bird" would be a good description of most writers, wouldn't it? Theresa
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (133 of 150), Read 26 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Sherry Keller (shkell@earthlink.net) Date: Thursday, July 27, 2000 11:20 AM Theresa, the title character is a writer's agent, not a writer. I think if Joe had been a writer, he would have considered his life more of a success. As it is, he fell into his profession and he was not particularly pleased about it. Candy, I haven't read the other book explaining the Curtis/Joe relationship, but from what Beej said, Curtis didn't seem like a free spirit who was particularly happy with his life. Beej, was he self-supporting? That makes a big difference. Sherry
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (134 of 150), Read 29 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Pres Lancaster (plancast@slip.net) Date: Thursday, July 27, 2000 11:38 AM And another "take" on the book: This is a powerful moral story. Joe is a tragic figure, both commanding our pity and warning us. Everything we learn, we learn through Joe’s eyes and mind. Events happen and Joe observes them, but always as things noted, at one remove, at a distance. He sees life, but he doesn’t live it, except for possibly a few moments driving down an avenue of trees. He is as if contained in a block of plastic, in the world but forbidden it. The other characters, including his son, are figures that perform on the screen of how things are, they are not really tied to him by their reality. I am unwilling to believe that this is Stegner autobiographical; I think rather that Stegner has created a classical tragedy, the story of a flaw that is allowed to devour its host. In this context I think the book is a knockout. And believe you me, I hope to God I am not reading my own ideas into the story. pres
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (135 of 150), Read 37 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Steve Warbasse (wk4@uswest.net) Date: Thursday, July 27, 2000 11:45 AM What a delightful addition to this group you are, Candy! I must admit that my mouth dropped open while I read these last two of yours, and I ended up a little. . .ah. . .well, out of breath. Such a different voice. A truly youthful one. Please don't think I condescend. I do not. Very refreshing actually. What an adventure being your father must be! I hope he appreciates it. As for me, I will just see if I can score a little speed and try to keep up. "Flaneur." Absolutely great word and one I had quite forgotten. Of course Joe was not content and happy with how he HAD CHOSEN TO LIVE his life, was he? That's the point of the whole thing, isn't it? That is precisely the reason I started to circle back around for another look after all my early lauding of the marriage. I presume you speak of Damage by Josephine Hart. Yes, that would be a good exercise in contrast, wouldn't it? Have you read it? Does not the son commit suicide in that one, too? I think I'm right there. If I am, it just goes to show you can't win in the parenting game regardless of which path you take. Or did the son accidentally fall down a stairwell? You know, we have a truly great one on a father/daughter relationship coming up on the list in the form of Disgrace by Coetzee. Don't miss that one. Yes, there was a very real generation gap way back then, but you're not going to suck me into pontificating about it. Nothing gets more boring more quickly than some old goof running off at the mouth about the sixties. Joe's expression of his disgust with that granny dress captured it all pretty succinctly anyway. Talk about an old goof! What else is here in this grab bag? Oh, yes. Kerouac and Ken Kesey. You've read these guys? In addition to Terry Southern? I do hope this place is entertaining enough for you to stick around for awhile. Would you consider découpaging other peoples' shoe boxes? On a commission basis, of course. Not asking for freebies here. Maybe we could make your advent a modestly paying proposition for you. I know several people here whose shoe boxes could use a little découpage. Steve
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (136 of 150), Read 28 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Dale Short (dshort5005@aol.com) Date: Thursday, July 27, 2000 11:50 AM Theresa: Despite Joe not being a writer, I think your premise is a very apt one. Sure true for me, anyway. It's not that I don't live life (at least I hope it's not), but there's always a large part of me that is merely spectating, rather than entering into the spirit of the thing viscerally. Truly a mixed blessing, and I've talked with many writers over the years who are hard-wired the same way. Likewise, it's very rare that I can enter 100% into the spirit of a book and its characters, for much the same reason. One side of me is assessing the structure, scoping out the competition, wondering why he/she made some choices and not others, etc. Just a hazard of the profession, I guess. Pres: I love this line from your post... The other characters, including his son, are figures that perform on the screen of how things are, they are not really tied to him by their reality. I think you nailed this one squarely on the head, partner. >>Dale in Ala.
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (137 of 150), Read 28 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Daniel LeBoeuf (dan1066@yahoo.com) Date: Thursday, July 27, 2000 12:35 PM Steve's Literary Theory 13 is interesting, to say the least: The author creates a work but has no control over the "meaning" of the work. This is classic Stanley Fish, Is There a Text in this Class? sort of thing. But as beguiling as Fish's reader response is, I've always felt Wolfgang Iser was closer to the actual truth--an author tries to articulate his thoughts, his actions, his ideas using the tools and method of grammar, context, and symbols. He erects roadsigns throughout the work for the reader to notice the landscape and stay on course. When a work becomes ambiguous--as is the case here with Stegnor's illustration of marital longevity or marital hell (take a side please, the fence can't hold everyone)--then Iser would say that the ambiguity stems from two possibilities: (1) The author failed to construct a decent roadmap (2) The reader isn't paying enough attention to the roadmap and is taking detours that the author never intended. But I'll posit a third possibility: Stegner articulates a realistic portrayal of a lengthy marriage and the immensity of the topic takes each reader through a terrain in such a way that each reader notices what THEY want to notice. For example: after I had Zack, I was amazed at how many infants and toddlers are out in public places. They didn't seem to be there before I was a father. The same is true with this novel: If you've had poor marriages of real inconvenience, you're look at Stegnor's work and cry that here is the articulation of the problems with marriage. On the other hand, if you believe in the lengthy marriage, you'll see confirmation of your belief in Joe and Ruth's relationship. I think Stegnor knew which aspect of marriage he was writing about--it is not something that escaped from his subconscious. It's when his so-very realistic achievement is placed before us, his readers, that our unconscious is settled or unsettled, as the case may be. Dan
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (138 of 150), Read 35 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Dale Short (dshort5005@aol.com) Date: Thursday, July 27, 2000 01:41 PM Dan: Looks like I have to be the loyal opposition here and weigh in on the side of Steve's Proposition #13. I can't claim to speak for Stegner, of course, only for myself and, to a lesser degree, the very few writers I am close to who occasionally confide in me and one another about their process. One of the chief miracles of fiction, to me, is that when it's exceptionally good, it's not chemistry but alchemy. Which is to say that it isn't the writer's thoughts, views, or focus that are on display but rather those of his or her characters. By this I certainly don't mean that writing fiction is some equivalent of New Age channeling, but that reactions occasionally come into the mix that surprise me, confuse me, even make me apprehensive, because they're certainly not mine. If those parts seem real and credible to me, I leave them in. If not, I leave them out. But the ending of any piece of fiction is a far, far cry from the place I was headed toward, starting out. (Maybe this is not quite as rigidly the case for writing a short story, but I'd have to give that some more thought.) The most exhilarating thing to me about doing fiction readings (other than getting to hog the microphone{G}) is that any question-and-answer session that follows is almost invariably a big education for me. Somebody might ask if I intended to draw Inference A from such-and-such a scene or dialogue, and I (foolishly) answer yes. At which point another reader comments, "Yes, but, in Chapter 4 it appears exactly the opposite." Honest to God, I hadn't noticed the contradiction. A novel is such a slow and many-tentacled thing that all I can do is try to make sure the action is "of a piece," but what that piece may "mean" to different people is way beyond my ken and ability. All of which is not to say that I consciously work to create ambiguity, though maybe some writers can. As for me, it's just that I can't not do it. >>Dale in Ala.
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (139 of 150), Read 36 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Steve Warbasse (wk4@uswest.net) Date: Thursday, July 27, 2000 02:23 PM Dan, you are citing Wolfgang Iser in rebuttal of Warbassian lame literary theory No. 13? The man who has single-handedly shifted the focus of literary theorists from the author to the reader and the reader's response? The man who came up with the reception theory? Really? This guy is the primary published authority in support of No. 13. In fact, the rascal stole it from me because I was so slow in getting it down on paper myself! There must be some misunderstanding here. At the risk of being a pain in the ass, let me try it this way. To the extent that we believe that there is some objective meaning to a novel out there outside of us, we then tend to believe that the author is in possession of that meaning. So then we read biographies of the author, we might attend a lecture by the author, or we might read an author's interview about the meaning of his own work or watch him on "Book Talk," all a completely simplistic waste of time. It is precisely the error of many "literary" scholars in academia who write dissertations on what Eliot "meant" when she wrote Middlemarch and therefore what it means to us. Iser has also studied the manner in which the reader fills in the gaps in a text--the unsaid and the ambiguous. He does focus on text but for the most part his focus is on what is not there and therefore preeminently in the reader's domain. However, the last thing Iser would focus on is the author's intentions. The author through his agents sold us the book after all (or in this case, sold it to the library from which I borrowed it) and in a very real sense is out of the picture. The text is now ours. Iser's reference to an ideal reader rather than any particular reader is where he gets very, very dense. This is the area to which I think you refer when you say that each of us individually derives what he or she wants to derive from a text, based upon his or her own experience. You raise a very valid question. My only response is that during my rethinking of this novel, all I did was go back and look closely at what Joe did and what Joe said and filled in the gaps with my own imagination. The whole thing was much, much more complex than a simple paean to marital longevity and loyalty and the never-failing bliss to be derived therefrom. And it's a great novel as a result. That seems to me to be a valid conclusion, and I don't give a damn what Mr. Stegner intended. Couldn't care less. You have far too much faith in great authors, Dan. I'm telling you. Those dummies haven't the faintest idea what they created or how they created it. The honest ones will tell you that, too. Steve
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (140 of 150), Read 28 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Mary Anne Papale (mapreads@aol.com) Date: Thursday, July 27, 2000 03:37 PM I think we're all hung up here on whether Joe & Ruth's marriage was good or bad, autobiographical or not, and so on. Just what do you expect a 50 year marriage to look like? Sweet nothings at every turn? Or is one party complaining about his aches and pains and the other is solicitous? Do they bicker? Do they walk arm in arm around the other side of the house? All of the above? IMHO, Stegner has presented a realistic view of what such a relationship might look like. It has been noted that Stegner was happily married himself and had a son who was nothing like Curtis. To me, Stegner has deftly drawn a depiction that has struck such a real chord with all of us. Having passed the 30 year milestone, I hope I am so fortunate that I will be able to answer the questions above. Maybe I'll be Ruth to my husband's Joe. I don't think I'd mind it at all. Metaphors be with you... MAP
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (141 of 150), Read 34 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Dale Short (dshort5005@aol.com) Date: Thursday, July 27, 2000 03:54 PM I hear you, MAP! At the risk of being autobiographical myself, I must mention that during my first divorce--I had married at 18, and it lasted almost 11 years, with a wonderful son then in elementary school--I went totally bananas and, while crying on the shoulder of my therapist, said that my favorite part of Paul Harvey's radio broadcast was his salute to a couple somewhere in the U.S. who had been married 50, 60 years or more. I told the therapist that being married that long to the same person had always been one of my dreams. To which, to his everlasting credit, he replied: "Well, now that this one's ended, Dale, I think you may very well have a good chance at your wish." Talk about random acts of kindness and wisdom. Of course, it hasn't worked out that way. But hope springs eternal. And at least, it was a beautiful closing line. {G} >>Dale in Ala.
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (142 of 150), Read 23 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Steve Warbasse (wk4@uswest.net) Date: Thursday, July 27, 2000 09:24 PM MAP, I would expect a 50-year marriage to look exactly like this one looked to me. Complex. Not simple. With good things and some very not so good things. That's my only point. The test is, does it work? In this sense: On balance are the two people both happier together than they would be apart or perhaps with someone else, marriage vows aside? I have serious doubts here based upon what I read of Joe. Joe needed a little help to break out, and he didn't get it. Nor do I mean to demean others' aspirations in this regard. I have no doubts about your situation. It's undoubtedly great! My own aspirations would be to avoid at all costs some woman rubbing my aged bald head, telling me I am cold, and directing me to get inside. However, my own aspirations are irrelevant to the subject at hand, and I have tried to take that into account from the get-go here. Steve
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (143 of 150), Read 23 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: R Bavetta (rbavetta@prodigy.net) Date: Friday, July 28, 2000 12:40 AM I think in all this discussion about what marriage should, would, could be, we’ve forgotten that each couple, and each person within that couple, lives within and needs and expects and wants and experiences a different marriage. A successful marriage is whatever kind of marriage works for both parties, no matter what it is. I saw in Joe and Ruth, the longtime give and take and comfort of a stable marriage. The glow of whatever rockets and bells went off when they first fell in love, has long since faded and they have reached an equilibrium that works most of the time. Not bad, in a world where we seldom find perfection. And some of us need rockets and bells more than others. Astrid and Joe never got beyond the rockets and bells stage. Who knows whether it would have lasted or what it would have turned into. As for finding THE ONE. It’s a big world out there. There’s always more than one possibility, thank goodness. Besides, the person who is THE ONE for you when you’re 18, may not be the person who’s THE ONE when you’re 35, or 65. I agree that Joe has a healthy sense of humor, and the ability to laugh at himself and his own grumbles and mumbles. That’s one reason they make delightful reading. How many of us wouldn’t have thrown the book away in disgust if the POV character had been merely a whiner? “Do not go humble into that dark night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” Most of the time Joe was just indulging in a some good healthy raging. I wrote all of the above before reading Pres’s note. Now I’m not as sure as I was. Perhaps Joe is more tragic than I perceived him. As for what Stegner meant, and what we’re reading into it here—Marcel Duchamp said that a work of art is completed in the eye of the beholder. Seems to me that’s just as true of literature as of visual art. Ruth
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (144 of 150), Read 17 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Ann Davey (davey@tconl.com) Date: Friday, July 28, 2000 08:44 AM Well, said, Ruth. Stegner wrote this book when he was 67 and by then he had a pretty good idea of the way long term relationships work. When I was young, I believed in a fairy tale version of true love, but age gave me a more realistic view. Ann
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (145 of 150), Read 15 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Daniel LeBoeuf (dan1066@yahoo.com) Date: Friday, July 28, 2000 09:07 AM Let me reiterate: There's a continuum between Iser and Fish. Iser allows the author some control over the content of the text, but he also notes that it is the reader who must inevitably wrestle with the text and try to understand the author's works. Iser allows the author "intention"--but he allows the careful reader the freedom to understand the intention in any way that is in accord to what is expressly within the text. Fish says the author has no control whatever over the text. Total meaning arises from the reader and the school of thought the reader has attended. With Fish, there is no authorial intention--it's all unconscious mumble-jumble that readers will make a classic or a dud. The reader is everything--there's no authors, there's no books, there's only readers. A pleasant CR notion, n'est-ce pas? Notice Dale (who probably didn't notice because he's the author of the post) noted that he just writes and writes and all he can do is take it out or leave it in. Ahhh-that's the authorial control I'm driving at. I get uncomfortable with this notion of writing as some form of "automatic writing from the great beyond." I concede that characters can take on a new life and that authors tend to create great symbols or literary devices without any planning, but I don't buy this "It's all out of my hands" kind of idea. It's like the musician who spent hours and hours practicing. One day someone asks how they accomplished some difficult sequence. The musician shrugs and says, "It just came to me." No it didn't--that's the wonderful euphoria after the years and years of struggle. Stegnor and Dale have spent their time writing and writing, pounding away at the keyboard. They don't need literary maps or pre-planned strategies--the ability to create meaning with words is ingrained. In fact, with Dale, it is so deeply ingrained he doesn't even know where its coming from anymore. Even he is pleasantly surprised and will give a "I'll be damned" when someone notes how something actually "works well" within something he has written. I may be the lone wolf here, but I'm telling you--the authors are still in control for a good reason. Let's not swim with Fish completely yet. Dan
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (146 of 150), Read 17 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Candy Minx (candyminx@hotmail.com) Date: Friday, July 28, 2000 10:10 AM Steve, yes Damage is the book where the son falls down the stairs in shock after finding his father in bed with his fiance. (the son's finace yuck)And I have read it and seen the movie.. Damage is about the hazards of acting on passion but also once one realizes one has avoided passion the worse pain that causes. Sadly the main character acts on his desire in an escapist kind of way instead of just changing his life with positive action, he does it with hurtful and uncontrolled action. But his life HAD to change in all ways. The character had to seize passion but had no idea how to do it without it being destructive to everyone in his life. I think it's a fantastic take on things. I did not like Astrid. I don't think he should have left his wife for her. Just to clear that up. BUT> She is a catalyst for him to admit to realize his approach to life. It never once occurred to me to think of this novel as autobiographical. Actually I don't think of any book as autobiographical. I wouldn't even accept that notion if the writer themselves told me their book was autobiographical. I can't see why anyone would write about themselves when art is about imagination, as many have sort of said here anyway. There would be no interest or challenge for a writer to write of themselves in fiction. I'm rambling, sorry back to some kind of topic here... With contrasting TSB with it, we see a man who can control his actions in regards to acting on his passion hurtfully. Joe gets points for that. But, the book suggests to me that perhaps there are other ways to reach out and feel and live with passion...but he doesn't. Do all us humans really believe that its a choice in life1) wild fun passion life or2) the middle road not as racy or fun, but at least we have safety? Because right now thats what it sounds like here. In some ways it seems like Joe might be the study of a sore loser. Yes, he and his wife are friends and thats cool. She's whats called a care-giver(I too find that whole bit icky, like women are so powerfully moved by mother hood and its duties and passion that they bring that into their marriage after awhile it's like THAT becomes the way they know how to love, yawn). In some ways since Joe couldn't get what he wanted in his life he chose 'the right thing' sure but now he's gonna punish himself and his wife with his secret unhappiness. It's pretty subtle in this story but I think whats going on. I guess considering the things that were sad and unresolved in their lives it is a good thing they could stay friends with each other and they did have good things betwen each other. Some people would have been outwardly bitter and probably broken up with those very similar events but in a way ruth and Joe are passive agressive bitter. She with her mothering sexuality and he with his I'm a good guy because I didn't dump you. Meanwhile back at the ranch, they suit each other and they are at least friendly, polite and have company and share retirement. So I guess that is cool and a long spectator marriage is 'worth it'. Dan, I got off the fence okay!? ha ha. (p.s. Steve Yes, I have read Ken Kesey and Keroauc I was also a huge William Burroughs fan, I just read Cities of The Red Night this month. William Kotzwinkle and Bukowski I should add to that era and have read and loved too. I have fairly broad reading habits not always likeing everything but I like to know a variety of whats out there. I try to keep up with lists like NYTs and read it too although I haven't enjoyed a lot of what they recommended last year. Seems there is a trend in what I call self-help fiction or survivor fiction and I find it soap operaish. I prefer big rocking action and nature novels as opposed to urban angst and intellectualism)
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (147 of 150), Read 15 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Candy Minx (candyminx@hotmail.com) Date: Friday, July 28, 2000 10:23 AM Dale, I laughed so hard at your therapists closing line, that was so cool!!! Hey, one other thing...what about American Beauty. I was not a huge fan of that movie I thought it was okay. A little too charicature for me, but I loved how Kevin Spaceys character came to see himself and he acted YET he didn't rry to change any one else around him. He wanted them to allow him to change but he didn't expect anyone else to. I thought that was the fresest part of that script because there are so many people out there who have a 'life change' and try to forcefeed change onto everyone around them. Armchair psychobabble or whatever. He din't even try to end his marriage, but he found his way to be himself and in some ways he proposed just let me be and I'll let you be but I need to be happy here in this house.
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (148 of 150), Read 8 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: R Bavetta (rbavetta@prodigy.net) Date: Friday, July 28, 2000 11:37 AM Dan, I'm with you. I think. Of course the author has the ultimate sayso as to what appears in the book. It's ridiculous to think not. But every reader brings a different life and a different experience to bear, and will interpret and experience and fill in the gaps differently. Most of us see a movie in our heads when we read. I know I do. My movie is not going to look like your movie. The characters are going to look different. The sets will be different. The tone of voice of the characters will be different. Candy, writing autobiographically is one of the most difficult things there is. It's far more threatening to expose yourself, rather than an imaginary character. It's far more difficult to know the absolute truth about yourself, than it is to create someone from the whole cloth. I write poetry. Most poets write from autobiography. Surely you can't be saying poetry is not creative. I find it's almost impossible to write without bits and pieces of my life and thoughts falling into it. But the bits and pieces get assembled along with other bits and pieces which I think are imaginary. (One never knows.) You say you're an artist? So am I. Everything that goes on that canvas is bits of me. Even if it's just the choice of subject matter. Why did Stegner choose to write about a Joe in that stage of life? Stegner was 67. He knew something about that stage of life. I didn't see that passive agressive bitterness you described. Or at least not much of it. Few marriages are made in heaven. There are always some rough edges. I saw a longtime couple whose marriage has generally worked, picking at a few scabs. Ruth
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (149 of 150), Read 5 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Daniel LeBoeuf (dan1066@yahoo.com) Date: Friday, July 28, 2000 12:18 PM Ruth: That's exactly what I believe as well. The author possesses a a say-so in the construction of the work, the reader possesses a say-so in the reception of the work. Dan
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (150 of 150), Read 5 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Steve Warbasse (wk4@uswest.net) Date: Friday, July 28, 2000 12:29 PM I have moved far enough to meet you in the middle, Dan. I agree with that. Sorry to be so slow in responding to your initial note on Fish and Iser yesterday. Until I read your post, I had never heard of either of these guys in my life. I had to bone up quickly in order to sound authoritative. In my opinion this is certainly something worth thinking about and discussing. Thanks to you, Dale, Ruthie, and all for taking the time. For the umpteenth time, I really do like this novel. These characters are great creations. Very real. I could pick them out of a room full of people, I think. Steve
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (151 of 158), Read 27 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Candy Minx (candyminx@hotmail.com) Date: Friday, July 28, 2000 01:05 PM Ruth, Yes I am an artist and I write poetry too. Sometimes someone comes up to me after reading a poem and says I never knew you did this or that in your life and quotes a line from a poem. I have to let them down and say, no I didn't do that. It's a form of fiction, it's a poem not a diary. Yes, I put in some 'real' anecdotes or the odd event is used to give it a real feel. If I use the device of reality in a poem or story it is to help deliver a stretch of the imagination. Some of my poems are character based and I may use something from myself to develop a character but they are not autobiographical. My life is not interesting enough to be the sole content of a poem or story, alas. I enjoy making people up out of nothing. Or with bits and pieces. Ruth, Steve and all, I really love this novel. I am so impressed by it. The fact that I am analyzing these characters and frustrated by them doesn't mean I don't like the book. I even feel I could be friends with them. I think it is brilliant that so many big issues have been addressed in a novel set within a marriage. Not many writers can do that and keep me interested.(see my scary harsh post under The Archivist)
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (152 of 158), Read 32 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Dale Short (dshort5005@aol.com) Date: Friday, July 28, 2000 01:25 PM Candy: I've had the kinds of experiences you report, with people assuming that a poem or novel is autobiographical. I choose to take it as a compliment, because at least it means (I hope) the reader found it believable. I especially love your line: My life is not interesting enough to be the sole content of a poem or story, alas. I enjoy making people up out of nothing. Or with bits and pieces. I often tell classes that the most depressing part of attending creative workshops, for me, was being told in most of them, "Write what you know." The stuff I know is not even interesting to me, and I'm darn sure nobody's going to lay out good money to read it. {G} (PS: IMHO, your post about THE ARCHIVIST is not harsh, it's passionate. Big difference. You go, Candy.) >>Dale in Ala.
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (153 of 158), Read 27 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Candy Minx (candyminx@hotmail.com) Date: Friday, July 28, 2000 01:56 PM Thank you. The wonderful thing for me with reading or writing or nature(I associate these sensations as all the same kind of pleasure) is to be relieved of the tyranny of my own mind or ideas. It's reaching out to a community rather than my own limitations. It's about expanding bigger than my own world and it's beliefs and dis-beliefs. Can I ask a dum question, what does IhMO mean? Or that group of letters. I'm not down with on-line lingo. I know what LOL means or LMAO, but thats about it.
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (154 of 158), Read 29 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Sherry Keller (shkell@earthlink.net) Date: Friday, July 28, 2000 02:24 PM Candy, that's all right. I don't know what LMAO means. IMHO means "in my humble opinion." Very civilized, doncha think? Sherry
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (155 of 158), Read 35 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Candy Minx (candyminx@hotmail.com) Date: Friday, July 28, 2000 04:12 PM thanks, thats pretty cool. LMAO is laughing my *** off. Not quite as classy as the former.
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (156 of 158), Read 15 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Jane Niemeier (jniemeie@hotmail.com) Date: Saturday, July 29, 2000 10:50 PM Ruth, In your post number 143 (I think??), you mentioned just what I wanted to say about marriage. I don't know if I agree about someone being "THE ONE" for you for your whole life. Like you said, the one who is right for you at 20 may not be right for you at 50. If you find someone that you believe is right for you, you have to work your whole life to keep it that way. And that is what Ruth and Joe did. They are still working at it in this book. Jane
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (157 of 158), Read 18 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Barbara Moors (bar647@aol.com) Date: Sunday, July 30, 2000 06:38 AM David, before this terrific thread dies out, could you tell me again the name of the short story by Stegner that includes Ruth and Joe? I have his book of Collected Stories and, for far, haven't been able to find that one. However, I've been known to miss these kinds of things before (-: Barb
Topic: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (158 of 158), Read 11 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: David Moody (davidmoody@prodigy.net) Date: Sunday, July 30, 2000 09:29 AM Barb: It was "Field Guide to the Western Birds". David

 
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Wallace Stegner

 
Here is a related discussion, about Stegner's On the Teaching of Creative Writing..., that coincided with this topic.

 
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