Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Another Stegner Book: All the Little Live Things

Needing to redeem myself after the erotica of the previous Frog/Toad Love photo, I'll put on my academic robes and concoct a book "report."  My New Years resolution to read more this year is still intact and I'm pleased with my efforts, but I'm procrastinating when it comes to writing the summaries.

Crossing To Safety by Wallace Stegner is still my favorite read in recent times, so when I saw this used copy of All the Little Live Things at Cottonwood Books, I had to make room on the already crowded bookshelves of the den and give it a new home.

"Once we found it and made it our refuge, we were as if in hibernation; exasperations, troubles with the neighbors, demands from outside, were no more than the flybuzzings that persuaded us our sleep was sweet."

Perhaps a reminder that our retirement move to Virginia shouldn't (and can't) be a retreat from the world?  Stegner's main characters Joe Allston and his wife Ruth have retired to the mountains of California seeking change and solitude.

The plot revolves around the Allston's relationship with neighbor Marian Catlin. She forces Joe to analyze his belief system and challenges him to love and lower his bristly wall of self defense. Not love in a physical sense; Joe views her as somewhat of a daughter.

Marian believes in the perfection of nature and thrills to life... "all the little live things". When Joe learns learns that Marian is both pregnant and dying of cancer her attitudes irk and frustrate him all the more.

Marian points out the beauty in life and Joe reflects back to her the ever present shadow of death.  She sees the seamless way everything works together to create a world where nothing is inherently "bad" while Joe sees evil and chaos lurking everywhere in their Eden.

The sanctity of the Allston's refuge is first challenged when college dropout Jim Peck begins camping on an isolated corner of the Allston's land.  Reminding them of their deceased son from whom they had been estranged, Peck develops a chaotic commune on their land and stretches their tolerance to the breaking point.

The ending isn't a happy one and Joe certainly doesn't become a convert to Marian's philosophy of life, but then there is Joe's reflection.....
"Would I wipe Marian Catlin out of my unperfected consciousness if I could?  Would I forgo the pleasure of her company to escape the bleakness of her loss?  Would I go back to my own formula which was twilight sleep, to evade the pain she brought with her?  Not for a moment.  ...... I shall be richer all my life for this sorrow."

Simply superb; what a writer.  I'm on the lookout for hardbound copies of the Stegner novels Angle of Repose and Big Rock Candy Mountain.


  1. That's an author I am not familiar with. Thanks for introducing me. Sounds like a very thoughtful book.

  2. I wish I were a reader as I was some decades ago. I think reading makes for a more well-rounded person, but alas, I try and always lose interest after just a few chapters. I think it's old age A.D.D. Seriously, I just cannot concentrate on reading a book anymore. :-(

  3. I have a couple of Stegner's novels on my shelf awaiting time to read them. Now that I've read your review of this one, I may have to start at least one soon as Angle of Repose is one on the books. I do enjoy losing myself in a good read and lately have been focusing on mysteries.

  4. Loved the book report and I so need to make the time to read. I have two books right now with only a dozen or so pages read. Loved your comment about the Philbrook... it is amazing that Tulsa has such beauty tucked away in the old historic downtown area. When you think of Tulsa, it just doesn't compute! Have a glorius weekend, hope the new house is coming along fast...

  5. I just googled "All the little live things blogspot" because I finished the book today and I wanted to read what others think... And I found your blog.

    I discovered Wallace Stegner with "Crossing to Safety". It is one of my top ten. Then, I read "Angle of repose". Beautiful. "The Spectator Bird" and "All the living things", (same characters) I found them in the library as audiobooks, beautifully read by Edward Herrmann.

    I agree with you, Stegner is Superb. What a writer.

  6. I haven't read this one of Stegner's books, but you make it sound well worth it -- my favorites have been Angle of Repose and Crossing to Safety. He is one of the best!


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