©2002 Wallace Earle Stegner; (P)2009 Recorded Books, LLC
"This is a wonderfully rich, warm, and affecting book." (Library Journal)
"It's deceptively simple: two bright young couples meet during the Depression and form an instant and lifelong friendship. "How do you make a book that anyone will read out of lives as quiet as these?" Larry Morgan, a successful novelist and the narrator of the story, poses that question many years after he and his wife, Sally, have befriended the vibrant, wealthy, and often troubled Sid and Charity Lang. "Where is the high life, the conspicuous waste, the violence, the kinky sex, the death wish?" It's not here. What is here is just as fascinating, just as compelling, as touching, and as tragic." (Amazon.com review)
I bought this after hearing it recommended by all three participants in a recent edition of "A Good Read" and am very glad that I did. It's a simple enough story of two couples played out against the background of mid twentieth century America but cheering in its account of the pleasures and occasional difficulties of friendship and feels emotionally very true. Credit too to the narrator Richard Poe for adding significantly to the pleasures of the book.
Exquisitely crafted prose
The reading almost spoiled this beautiful book for me. Not only was it dull and expressionless but they chose a reader whose rough gritty voice would be more suited to a Cormack McCarthy depiction of death and evil than a sensitive novel about peoples' feelings.
This novel is so beautifully written I actually copied out some passages just so I could come back and admire them.
Choose this book if you enjoy fine observation of realistic characters, reflection rather than events. You don't need to know what it's about, though you have probably seen a summary saying it's about the relationship between two couples. That doesn't matter. What matters is the way he writes about them. When the couples are about to meet for the first time, the narrator rings the doorbell and devotes half a page of discussion to the meaning of pressing the button. The meeting itself generates a longer essay.
The writing is almost as reflective as Proust and indeed early in the book the narrator says he is going for a walk to do a little recherche du temps perdu. If you like the reflective style (of the two dramatic events in the book, one is described with more reflection than drama and the other he actually skips with the cheeky comment that this isn't an adventure novel) you will find it here in its finest style. To give a good feel for it would make this review overly long but here is a tiny bit from the meeting I mentioned above:
"We wandered into their orderly Newtonian universe a couple of asteroids and they captured us with their gravitational pull and made moons of us and fixed us in orbit around themselves... We felt their friendship as freezing travellers felt a dry room and a fire."
Finally, my favourite passage, in case you happen to remember, is the internal debate about upward mobility (beginning of part 2 chapter 4).
"This is life"
There is a certain nakedness to Stegner's storytelling, in the sense that it doesn't shy away from uncomfortable subjects like death and troubled marriages. His characters are not always likeable, but they are very real and may even remind you of people you know. This is a book about the life of a friendship between two couples over many years. Stegner explores the joy and excitement of the young friendship, but he recognizes that friendships can die away to almost nothing for long periods of time, only to be reignited by a major event. Stegner's appeal (for me anyway) is in his ability to develop his characters as they age and deal with life's challenges -- as well as to describe their surroundings lovingly and vividly. This story is not predictable, nor does it offer any particular shocks or surprises. However, it is gut-wrenching in its honesty about human beings and the institutions of marriage and friendship.
"Amazing Stegner and his beautiful last book"
I adore Stegner. He develops characters and stories with depth better than anybody. This book is about two couples, Larry and Sally Morgan and Sid and Charity Lang. They meet as young couples in a college in Wisconsin, and the book follows their lives and relationships.
It is by twists and turns heart-warming and tragic. He shows the two sides of character that can be giving and demanding - so much like life. In this book, he digs into how life is complex, we get in our own way, but some people gloriously overcome illnesses or setbacks what would destroy others.
This was his last book, and makes me want to read much more that he has written.
"Real characters dealing with life & death."
Unusual characters that feel like old friends.. Adds much to thought & discussion of end-of-life issues in a very personal and creative way.
"Love the book"
Lush and beautifully written, this story covers many years of two couples. If you like Richard Fords stuff, or Russo, then you will be very happy with this book.
"A Tour de Force from a Master"
It's a beautifully written novel, psychological and reflective, that follows a friendship between two couples over forty years. Richard Poe's reading is as close to perfect as it can be.
"Slow but worth the time"
Hmmm, how does one review a book like this? It’s the story of two couples: their friendship, marriages, lives, treasured memories and hardships. I found the story a bit slow at times and occasionally disjointed. No huge rising plot. No language frills. No magnificently crafted scenery. That said, there was a rawness to it—a deeply human face that held my attention and my focus, even when I wasn’t reading. I’m glad I read it, but I’m not sure I’d go around recommending it to everyone I know… except perhaps to my sister, to get her take on the family dynamics in the book. There were certainly some ponderous subtleties I could relate to.
"A great experience."
The narrator was definitely the most enjoyable experience. He was so suited to the period of this novel He had a warmth and humanity whilst maintaining that American, masculine intellectual persona.
I have never read anything by this author. It was a book club choice and I was very pleasantly surprised by how much I grew to love the book and care about the characters. I loved the honest portrayal of the flawed, all too human characters, and of course the setting. The author did a great job recreating, with his vivid descriptions of academia and academic life, that long gone period of American history.
I really can't choose. He did a great job with all of them. Perhaps Charity? She was such a vibrant person and he managed to portray her with honesty even though he has that masculine voice.
Of course! Everyone will cry in this book!
Thanks for a wonderful experience. I'm sure I got more out of this as an audible book than I would have simply by reading it. When I think about the story it is always with Richard Poe's melancholy, sonorous voice in my mind. Loved it.
"Beautifully written story, but...."
I don't think I would listen to it again, although it was beautifully written and narrated. I particularly disliked Charity,and she was really the dominant character in the book, as she was in the relationship between the two couples.
For myself I would have changed the ending (although I don't want to have any spoilers here). I thought there was surprisinging cruelty shown to one of the main characters, although it actually seemd to be the culmination of the way he had been treated by his wife throughout their marriage. I wonder if others have this same reaction.
Definitely the narrator.
No particular moment - just the enduring depth of the friendship between the two couples, the way they nurtured each other over the years and became each family to one another. Perhaps their reunion after several years of not seeing each other at the end was the most moving. (again, I don't want to give anything away about the ending)
It is ironic how the relationship between the two couples was mutually beneficial and nurturing, despite the flaws within each individual and particularly despite the serious flaws in the relationship of one of the couples.
"The most beautifully written book I've ever read"
Definitely. I am not a literary savant and didn't even recognize many of the references in this book, but I loved this book in every way. The reading was done wonderfully, the book, itself is the most beautifully written book I've ever read. I do not usually love flowery language in books and often loose focus, but the way that this author gives every detail of emotion and experience was spell-binding. I am almost, but not quite to the end so can't comment on it, but cannot imagine that I will be disappointed because I love this book so much.
Can't think of any
"Well written novel , but average story"
I learned about this novel from the " The End of Your Life Book Club" book. When I checked it out, the reviews on it were amazing. Unfortunately I do not agree with the previous reviews. It is a very well written book but I think the story is average. There were times when I just wanted the chapter to end, the details of a certain situation would linger forever. I think the book could have been much shorter and still get the same message out.
Having said that, still, I think there were some concepts, towards the end of the book, that were worth discussing
Too monotone for me
I think I would prefer to see it in a movie setting rather than read it in a book and spend that much time on it
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