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Thread: Big Rock Candy Mountain

  1. #1
    Ecurb Ecurb's Avatar
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    Big Rock Candy Mountain

    Wallace Stegner is known as the dean of American “Western” writers. “Big Rock Candy Mountain” is his first successful novel, published in 1938. It is autobiographical, centering around the married couple Bo and Elsa Mason and their two children, Chet and Bruce.

    It is also about the search for home. Western migration involved both leaving home, and seeking a new home. Bo Mason is a nomad, frustrated by his abusive family he runs away and moves about the West, always seeking, never satisfied. He also repeats his own abusive history with his own family. Elsa wants nothing so much as a home to call her own – but it will never happen. Bo is too troubled. He can't stay put. The myth of hardy, Western individualism is lampooned in Bo, who always thinks the “big score” is around the next bend in the road. He sees the mythical Big Rock Candy Mountain of song awaiting, just over the rise, where “the bulldogs all have rubber teeth and the hens lay soft boiled eggs.” He's energetic and talented – but his dream is the easy score, and he will settle for nothing less.

    Elsa is the good wife and mother, kind, supportive and loving. She turns against Bo only when it is necessary to protect their children from his abuse.

    The novel is not easy to read. It's not difficult intellectually, but emotionally. I've just finished it, and I feel as though I've been abused. But Bo and Elsa are two of the great fictional characters, and the emotional turmoil they bring to the reader is justified by the profundity of their depiction. Highly recommended.

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    Ecurb Ecurb's Avatar
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    I can't seem to edit my post. A correction: "Big Rock Candy Mountain" was copyrighted in 1938, but wasn't published until 1943. Stegner said he would never publish it while his real-life father was alive. Good move, Wallace.

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    I've never read a negative review about Stegner. I've never read this particular novel, but I have read his Angle of Repose. It was magnificent.

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    Stegner wrote "Big Rock Candy Mountain" 30+ years before he wrote "Angel of Repose". It is more straight forward in its presentation, but involves many of the same family issues and a similar sprawling, multi-generational story. I'd say the novels are close to equal in quality. I believe his other novel that is highly regarded is "Spectator Bird". I'll have to try that next.

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