Sunday, April 5, 1998

The Big Rock Candy Mountain

by Wallace Stegner

The only word for this 560-page slice of Americana is "saga."  It's a rich, detailed, loving and amazingly authentic portrayal of an American family, the Masons, from the turn of the century to the '30s.  In telling the story of this never satisfied, ever-scheming, gambling liquor-runner and his wife and two boys, Stegner recreates vividly and successfully everything that touches them.  He describes with care and apparent ease the thrill and trouble of working the first cars with cranks; the vast prairies, troubling droughts, deadly blizzards; small towns with their plank sidewalks and dirt roads; the experiences of frontier children and their trapping, shooting and loves; and with keen insight, he captures all the unfair and selfish emotions that the various family members feel as life shunts them about on their voyage.  The novel is about life, and death, and understanding, and carrying on the struggle.  I'd never heard of Stegner before, although he won the Pulitzer Prize for a different work; but I rate him now up with Steinbeck as one of the truly great American writers.

five stars