Friday, January 07, 2005
Some of you have complained that I like all these books so much--what about the ones I don't like? I try to avoid reading any of those, as a general rule, and books are so hard to write that I try to find something to like regardless. However, here was one that I didn't: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner. Now Stegner can write very well--I was actually surprised how much I liked Angle of Repose when I read it. And The Spectator Bird won The National Book Award, so I had high hopes. Here was the opening:

On a February morning, when a weather front is moving in off the Pacific but
has not quite arrived, and the winds are changeable and gusty and clouds
drive over and an occasional flurry of fine rain darkens the terrace bricks,
this place conforms to none of the cliches about California with which they
advertise the Sunshine Cities for the Sunset Years. No bland sky, no cool
morning overcast, no placid afternoons fading into chilly evenings.

Nothing spectacular, except from hints of tone that could be promising. But I found the first part of the book--his lamentations about the process of ageing, the decline of his friends--to be gloomy and uncompelling--bland even. (I perfer my gloom compelling...).

The second section of the book--the trip to Denmark and the mysterious countess--began to pick up, but then the book took a completely unbalanced and implausible turn--the incest and the genetics experiments, the past shame uncovered, etc. The parts seemed wholly out of balance, as if they came from different books and Stegner were making little attempt to reconcile them.

The kiss and near-affair (which by this time we had been awaiting for a hundred pages or so) was wel-enough drawn, but the shadow of the lurid history of her family battered the delicacy out of it. It was no longer a human situation, but a kind of historical and political one, yet there was no recognition of this in the narrative.

1 star. Stegner's good, but not here. The National Book Award??


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