Now I'm getting the chance to read books I didn't have time for before. Think of me whenever you see the slogan "So many books, so little time!" Now I've got the time.  Cheers, Fred.

Collected Works of Wallace Stegner

Book Number: 
Date Fred Read: 
November 2018
Fred's Rating: 
Wallace Stegner
Total Pages: 

Wallace Stegner (1909 – 1993) was an American novelist, short story writer, environmentalist, and historian, often called "The Dean of Western Writers". He won the 1972 Pulitzer Prize for Angle of Repose and the 1977 U.S. National Book Award for The Spectator Bird.

The Amazon website for the 1990 paperback edition is

The Amazon website for this edition has Amazon’s “Look inside’ option. I choose this 1990 edition since the 2006 Penguin Classic reprint doesn’t offer the ‘Look inside’ option (which doesn’t make sense).

[None of the ISBN-10, ISBN-13, or ASIN numbers on Amazon’s websites for the three editions (Kindle, hardcover, or paperback) are recognized by Amazon, thus the ‘no image Circle' appears. I think this new change by Amazon is not good. However, you can see the images of this book's covers at the website above.]

Before I started these book reviews I had read other works by Wallace Stegner – the novels The Big Rock Candy Mountain, The Spectator Bird, and Crossing to Safety; the nonfiction Mormon Country and Where the Bluebird Sings to the Lemonade Springs: Living and Writing in the West. I highly recommend all of his books that I’ve read (so far), including this this Collected Works.

Although his fiction deals with many universal themes, Wallace Stegner is primarily recognized as a writer of the American West. Much of his literature deals with debunking myths of the West as a romantic country of heroes on horseback, and his passion for the terrain and its inhabitants have earned him the title 'The Dean of Western Letters'. He was one of the few true Men of Letters in this generation. A number of his creative writing students have become some of today's most well respected writers, including Wendell Berry, Thomas McGuane, Raymond Carver, Edward Abbey, Robert Stone, and Larry McMurty. (In my pre-wheelchair days I have read much by Berry, Abbey and McMurty.)

Neither of the websites of the two editions of his Collected Works includes his 3-pp Foreword. At present I’m reduced to typing with only my right thumb since I sprained my left thumb, so I won’t attempt to do what I want to do, which is to give next all of his 3-pp Foreword.

Instead I provide a few extracts from his 1989 Foreword: “It would not be accurate to say that these stories gathered up near the end of a lifetime of writing constitute an autobiography, even a fragmentary one. I have tried autobiography and found that I am not to be trusted with it. I hate the restrictiveness of facts; I can’t control my impulse to rearrange, suppress, add, heighten, invent, and improve…” …”Nevertheless the thirty-one stories in this volume do make a sort of personal record. I lived them, either as a participant or spectator or auditor, before I made fictions of them. Because I have a tyrannous sense of place, they are laid in places where I spent my childhood, and, in Salt Lake City, where I spent my youth, and in California, where I have lived forty-five years, and, in Vermont, where I have spent at least part of the last fifty summers. I have written about the kind of people I know, in the places where I have known them…”

“But few lives take the shortest distance between two points. Certainly mine did not.” …”That is why I have made no attempt to arrange these stories so that they make a nice progression from simplicity to complexity, past to present, primitive to civilized, sensuous to intellectual. They lie as they fell…”

“I have not written a short story for many years. It seems to me a young writer’s form, made for discoveries and nuances and epiphanies and superbly adapted for trial syntheses.” …”Whether because of a shortage of beginnings and endings or for other reasons, I found fairly early that even stories begun without the intention of being anything but independent tend to cluster, wanting to be part of something longer. That is why several stories written and first published as stories were later cannibalized and used as chapters in The Big Rock Candy Mountain and Recapitulation and Wolf Willow. I have juggled these back to their original state and let them fall as randomly into this collection as they fell into Harper’s or Atlantic or some other magazine in the 1930s and 1940s and 1950s. In their independent form, they actually mark the traveler’s route better than they do as segments of longer books.”

I found that these stories, as independent as each one may be, do ‘mark the traveler’s route’ in both space and time. This Collected Works is a great read. As should be expected, I found many of them to be great, but none of them to be bad. Some I’ve already read twice. I rate this book at five stars, but with my comment to ‘think six stars.’ I am sorry it wasn’t longer, with more stories than ‘just’ thirty-one.