The Angle of Repose: Wallace Stegner

Definition of  ‘angle of repose’ : the angle of maximum slope at which a heap of any loose solid material (sand/earth) will stand without sliding.

After an illness leaves Lyman Ward confined to a wheelchair and newly divorced, he takes it upon himself to write a book documenting the lives of his late Grandparents. Piecing together his Grandmother’s letters, articles and drawings, he manages to follow their journey which takes them all over the Americas. Through her correspondence we are given a captivating glimpse of the pioneering lifestyle that lured so many people West, not just in the USA but all over the world. 

Introducing: Susan Burling, a budding artist and writer, born to a well off Quaker family in Milton, New York. She enjoys evenings full of educated conversation and rich in culture. Augusta and Thomas, her two best friends who also move in the same social circles, end up marrying each other, leaving Susan feeling uncertain about their friendship. Enter: Oliver Ward, a young mining engineer with an honest streak who she meets at a party one evening. He is excited about voyaging West to seek new opportunities and to make his fortune. After a few years of courting, they marry and then travel by train to New Almaden, California to begin their lives together. 

For the next 461 pages we follow their journey of adaptation from California to Colorado to Mexico to Idaho and back again. Throughout their wanderings they stick together, but in the end, the initial excitement of going ‘out West’ evaporates like water in the desert. They go up against; mining issues, failed endeavors, financial problems and everything else the wild frontier has to throw at them. Through the medium of Susan’s articles and drawings we can picture the romantic and enticing side of the West but through her letters we see the other, more personal side of the story. She questions her own choices as well as her husbands and finds it increasingly difficult to continue to offer him her support. 

The fascinating thing about this book is that the character of Susan Ward is based on a real women named Mary Hallock who was born in Milton, New York in 1847. She studied art and by her early 20’s had become a reputable artist-illustrator for local publishers. In 1876 Hallock married Arthur De Wint Foote, a young mining engineer from Connecticut and they moved to New Almaden together. Mary may have followed her husband around to progress his career but in the meantime she became one America’s best known illustrators, famous for her early mining camp scenes.

For me to enjoy reading this book anyway and then to find out the story was inspired by real events, is the cherry on the cake. To be able to experience a small part of what the pioneers would have encountered, even through words, is an absolute privilege. I’m excited to do some more reading on this subject and expand my knowledge on what it meant to ‘go out west.’ 

Most Read: White Witch Black Curse- Kim Harrison

When I picked up this book from the library, I inwardly groaned and hid it under my arm the whole way home.  I was embarrassed to be seen with this book, with it’s dark green & black cover that gave it’s genre away so easily. A genre, at no time have I ever chosen to read, let alone watch on TV or at the cinema. It’s hard to even give this genre a specific name, online searches produced results like; supernatural, paranormal, horror, romantic horror. I could just never get into the strange story lines, the complicated love triangles or the cringe-worthy, slightly tense sex scenes. Don’t get me wrong, I love tales overflowing with magic and fantasy, but I sway more towards the worlds of muggles, enchanted wardrobes and ring bearing Hobbits.

It didn’t take me long to realise that this book was part of a series and that I had jumped right into the middle of it somewhere. There were so many references to previous events and deceased characters that this was the only explanation to my utter confusion during the initial chapters. Turns out it’s number 7 in the ‘Rachel Morgan’ or ‘Hollows Series’ which Kim Harrison first began writing in 2004. Harrison has reached the number one spot on The New York Times Best Seller List, which is considered the most distinguished line up of best selling books in the US.

An aspect of this book I really didn’t appreciate was that it seems like the author worked down a list of things that ‘should’ be included in this genre of book. Werewolves, vampires, pixies, demons, witches, banshees. Check, check, check, check, check, check. It just seemed like every stereotypical feature of this genre was in there, it made the story feel very cliche. Despite my feelings, I read many reviews online and those who have followed the series mostly seem to thoroughly enjoy it. Since I can only comment on one book out of them all, I shall focus more on the writing and the story line instead, which I didn’t enjoy either. I found many of the characters annoying or too similar within their personalities, Rachel (the protagonist) spends most of her time worrying about things instead of getting shit done. There was a lot of emotion flying around and not enough action for me. The only reason I kept on reading was to see where this bizarre story would eventually end up. 

As for it being Colorado’s most read book, I would have guessed at something potentially more lighthearted. Having never been there and only possessing a small amount of (questionable) knowledge about the state, I really have no idea. My understanding it that the people are more relaxed, devote a lot of time to being outdoors and perhaps spend their weekends smoking weed. It is legal there after all!