Study Guide

Angle of Repose

By Wallace Stegner

Angle of Repose Introduction

What happens when you cross a cowboy movie, a book on American history, and the nastiest episode of The Jerry Springer Show you've ever seen? Well, you get Wallace Stegner's novel Angle of Repose, of course.

Published in 1971, Angle of Repose is widely seen as Stegner's masterpiece—the thing won a gosh-darned Pulitzer Prize, after all. Stegner was actually a renaissance man in his time: he was a historian, novelist, and one of the founders of the American environmentalist movement. In other words, he's exactly the kind of dude you're hoping to find on Tinder.

Angle of Repose actually blends all three of Stegner's passions. First, it channels his experience as a historian, as it covers—in detail—roughly 100 years of American history. Second, it channels his experience as an environmentalist, as the novel is steeped in beautiful natural imagery and sophisticated environmentalist views. Finally, it channels his experience as a novelist because, well, it's simply an awesome book.

In the novel, we follow Lyman Ward, an ex-historian (sound familiar?) who's about to start the most ambitious project of his life: a partially fictionalized account of his grandparents' lives. Those grandparents—Oliver and Susan—were actually pretty stellar people: Oliver was a groundbreaking pioneer and engineer, while Susan was the most successful female artist of her time.

Naturally, Oliver and Susan's life is anything but easy. We see them struggle to adapt to the reality of life in the Wild West. We watch them fight to overcome seemingly endless financial hardships. And, sadly, we watch as this once-loving marriage devolves into an unhappy detente. Although the story of Angle of Repose isn't exactly heartwarming at times, you'll find that you'll learn a lot about what to do—and, more importantly, what not to do—with your life and your relationships by witnessing the struggles of the Ward family.

What is Angle of Repose About and Why Should I Care?

Although Angle of Repose seems like it's all about American history, it's actually about a subject much nearer and dearer to our hearts—love.

As it happens, love can be a tricky thing. Sometimes, we feel like Oliver Ward: head over heels in love with our favorite person in the whole world but completely incapable of showing it. Sometimes, we feel like Susan Ward: torn between equally strong feelings toward two equally hunky hunks. And, sometimes, we even feel like Lyman: so bitter about our past relationships that we don't even believe in true love anymore.

Although it isn't always pretty, Angle of Repose reveals the consequences—both good and bad—of these lovesick feelings. Oliver learns that communication might be the most important part of a relationship. Susan learns that the grass isn't always greener on the other side of the fence. And Lyman learns that if love is a battlefield, he'd better become a five-star general, fast.

If nothing else, you can look at Angle of Repose as a guide for how not to act in a relationship. Trust us on this one—your future bae will greatly appreciate it.

Angle of Repose Resources

Websites

The Wallace Stegner Center
Want to learn more about the life and work of the estimable Wallace Stegner? We got you covered.

How to Calculate an Angle of Repose
We know you were dying to know how to actually calculate an angle of repose. You were, right?

Articles and Interviews

Wallace Stegner, The Art of Fiction No. 118
The Paris Review's legendary "Art of Fiction" series features tons of awesome interviews with legendary authors, and this chat with Stegner is no exception.

Miners in the Early American West
This brief piece discusses the harsh realities miners faced when they decided to try their luck in one of the most brutal businesses on the planet.

Video

Wallace Stegner on Day at Night
Check out this killer interview with Stegner in which he discusses his approach to writing, history, and environmentalism.

Wallace Stegner: A Writer's Life
This documentary, produced several years before Stegner's death, provides a lot of awesome insight into the writer's life.

How to Calculate an Angle of Repose
Will learning how to actually calculate an angle of repose help you understand the book? Probably not. But there's nothing wrong with doing science for kicks.

Audio

Wallace Stegner and Environmental Consciousness
In this podcast, we get some killer insight into the massive influence Stegner has had on the modern environmentalist movement.

Everything Potent Is Dangerous
In this episode of NPR's This I Believe, you'll hear a rebroadcast of a radio recording of Stegner from the '50s. Check it out.

Images

Mine in New Almaden
Here is a mine. It's in New Almaden. Okay, bye.

Mines in Leadville
Wow, they look a lot like the mine in New Almaden. Who would've thunk it?