Study Guide

Angle of Repose

Angle of Repose Summary

Lyman Ward is a wheelchair-bound ex-historian who's diving into the most ambitious project of his life: writing a partially fictionalized account of his grandparents' lives. In order to do that, he plans on holing up in their old home—dubbed the Zodiac Cottage—and writing all day, every day.

His grandparents are Susan and Oliver Ward. Susan comes from Milton, New York, where she was heavily involved in the literary scene with her best friends, Augusta and Thomas Hudson. Susan and Oliver meet randomly one New Year's Eve and start exchanging letters soon afterward. In about five years, they're married, and Susan moves out west to join Oliver, who works as a mine engineer.

They move to a small mining camp called New Almaden. Susan actually digs it there, but Oliver eventually gets into a beef with his boss, which leads him to abruptly resign from his position. The Wards spend the next several years trying to figure things out (Oliver even tries to start a cement business), but Oliver is eventually forced to take another mine job in Leadville, Colorado.

Susan actually loves Leadville. There, Oliver has an assistant named Frank who seems to like Susan an awful lot, too. Like a lot, if you catch our drift. Although Leadville is a boomtown when they arrive, the town eventually slows down, and the Wards are forced to move once again. They spend a month or two in Mexico while Oliver inspects a mine, but that job ends rather quickly when the mine in question proves to be worthless.

After several more years of planning, the family moves to Idaho so Oliver can work on his latest business venture: an ambitious plan to irrigate the desert. Frank even travels to Idaho to work on the project, too, which Susan is a little too excited about. (By the way, the Wards have three kids at this point: Ollie, Betsy, and Agnes.) The family lives in a tiny shack for several years before financial problems force Susan and the kids to move back east.

The project eventually gets more financial backing, and Susan moves back to Idaho—though this time, they live in a swanky McMansion. Susan and Oliver's marriage has grown really tense over the years, however, so Susan finally gives in and starts an affair with Frank. Ultimately, this affair takes a turn for the tragic when Susan's youngest daughter Agnes drowns while accompanying Susan on one of her trysts, and Frank commits suicide several days later. Oliver never forgives Susan for this.

Back in the present, Lyman is horrified by this revelation. He's actually been dealing lately with his own marriage problems: his wife, Ellen, left him for his surgeon while he was receiving treatment for a bone disease. After having a trippy dream in which Ellen comes and forces him to give her a tour of the Zodiac Cottage, Lyman realizes that he should be the one to make the first move and forgive Ellen for her betrayal. After all, he doesn't want to make the same mistake that his grandfather did by never forgiving Susan.

  • Part 1, Chapter 1

    Part I: Grass Valley

    • Our narrator is sitting in something called the Zodiac Cottage in sunny Grass Valley, California, complaining about some dude named Rodman (1.1.2). Hope he's not talking about Dennis.
    • Oh, okay—Rodman is the narrator's son. We guess the narrator is an older man because he keeps talking about how Rodman and his wife, Leah, look down on him due to his age.
    • Finally, we get a few details about the old man (don't tell him we said that). His name is Lyman Ward: his wife (or ex-wife, it seems like) is named Ellen. He's also bound to a wheelchair due to an "amputation," though he doesn't go into any detail about it (1.1.10).
    • It turns out that the Zodiac Cottage is Lyman's grandparents' house. He's there because he's writing a partially fictionalized account of his grandparents' lives.
    • When he's not whining about his mega-hippie son (Rodman makes Jim Morrison look like Mister Rogers), Lyman loves hanging out in his grandmother's art studio.
    • Lyman now tells us about Rodman's most recent visit. Rodman had acted all panicky and overprotective, begging his dad to either stay with him or ask their family friends Ed and Ada to stay downstairs. Lyman shoots him down on both counts.
    • Rodman told Lyman that he should write about someone more interesting than his grandparents. Lyman thinks that this is insane, especially because Grandma Ward was actually the "best-known woman illustrator of her time" (1.1.36).
    • Lyman tells us a little bit about Grandma Ward's story, specifically how she traveled west with her engineer husband, Lyman's grandpa.
    • Lyman looks at his grandma's work as he waits for Ada to stop by to help him into bed. Ada and Lyman go way back: her grandpa worked for his grandpa's mine way back in the day.
    • Lyman's lucky to have her around. Because one of his legs has been amputated, he needs help even getting into the bath. It's a bit embarrassing.
    • Just then, the doorbell rings.
  • Part 1, Chapter 2

    • It's the morning, and Lyman is reading his grandparents' papers. He finds that he usually works best in the morning; by the afternoon, he's usually in too much pain to go on.
    • Luckily, that's usually when Ada comes by. On her most recent visit, she had talked about her own super-hippie daughter, who's back at home at the moment because she's beefing with her husband.
    • Grandma Ward's name, by the way, is Susan Burling. According to Lyman, Susan loved three things more than anything: art, New York, and her best friend, Augusta Drake.
    • And, boy, do we mean love. Lyman shows us a letter that Susan had written her bestie, and let's just say that it sounds more like she's talking to a girlfriend than a best friend.
    • Lyman starts telling us about a particular New Year's party that Susan once attended. The party is held in Brooklyn and is filled with rich kids as far as the eye can see.
    • Susan isn't quite so rich, but she has access to high society thanks to her tight friendship with a gal named Emma Beach. It helps that Susan's a killer artist, too.
    • Let's get back to the party, shall we? Susan is currently sitting down with a group of people as a preacher named Henry Ward Beecher loudly rants about typical preacher stuff.
    • Susan is annoyed. She gets up and "breathlessly" hustles to the library, where she hopes to get some quality alone time to work on her art (1.2.28). Life of the party, this one.
    • Suddenly, the door opens—it's Beecher's cousin, Oliver Ward, whom she has never met before. He tells her to pay him no mind and keep working.
    • Before long, however, Susan notices Oliver peeking over her shoulder at her drawing. He takes this opportunity to tell her about his life, his past failed business ventures, and his current plan to move out west and become an engineer.
    • The chat is interrupted by Emma's abrupt entrance. Apparently, some dude is demanding that Susan come out and dance with him. Susan leaves her drawing pad with Oliver and asks him to keep an eye on it.
    • Later that night, Susan draws a portrait of Oliver. We're sure you've figured out what's going on by now: this is the first meeting of Lyman's grandparents.
    • Still, it's a little weird overall. Although Susan would start writing letters to Oliver soon after this night, she never even mentions his existence to Augusta until five years later.
  • Part 1, Chapter 3

    • Back in the present, Lyman has recently hired a housekeeper/assistant, and she's awful. He can't help but think about how good of an assistant his grandma would have been.
    • So, Lyman has fired the assistant and hired Ada's daughter, Shelly Rasmussen, instead. Shelly seems like she'll do a good job, but Lyman is a little unsettled by her confidence and "boldness" (1.3.48).
  • Part 1, Chapter 4

    • While Oliver is gutting it out in the Wild, Wild West, Susan is living the high-society life on the East Coast. By now, she's begun getting paid to work as an artist.
    • Susan continues to write letters to Oliver, but she has her sights set on someone else at the moment: Thomas Hudson. Thomas is a literary editor and best bro to Susan and Augusta.
    • Susan loves Thomas because he is a pure fancy pants, a smart and sensitive man who we'll learn is also the "greatest editor" in the country (1.3.15). Even our knees are getting weak now.
    • After a few years, Susan realizes that Thomas is actually in love with Augusta. Bummer. Although this breaks Susan's heart (and leads her to write a nasty letter to her BFF), she eventually makes peace with her best friends' relationship.
    • And then, there's this: just two days after Susan learns about this love affair, she receives a letter from Oliver saying that he's coming back to the East Coast.
    • Susan picks up Oliver from the train station. He's acting pretty Clint Eastwood-y at this point: when he arrives at her house, he makes a big show of placing his tobacco pipe and great woodenhandled revolver on her dresser.
  • Part 1, Chapter 5

    • Oliver and Susan actually get along with each other quite well. She decides to take him to Big Pond, a nearby scenic spot, with her sister Bessie and her husband, John.
    • At some point, Susan climbs up a cliff overlooking a waterfall and hangs over the edge so she can peer down. While she does this, Oliver holds on to her ankles so she won't fall. Lyman sees this as the moment when she falls in love with him.
    • At some point (and somehow), the pair decides to marry. Er, all right. Oliver's plan is to visit his parents in Connecticut for a few days before heading back out west to get things ready.
    • Augusta freaks out when she hears the news, accusing Susan of keeping secrets. It certainly doesn't help that she doesn't dig Oliver very much.
    • But, that doesn't end up mattering—in 1876, eight years after they first meet, Oliver and Susan are married.
  • Part 1, Chapter 6

    • Augusta doesn't end up coming to their wedding. Although she claims that she's too weak because she just had her first child with Thomas, Susan suspects that something else is at play.
    • In truth, this development makes Susan a bit ashamed of Oliver. He's like a fish out of water when thrust into the literary and intellectual scene that Susan loves with all of her heart.
    • Oliver actually meets Thomas and Augusta (plus their new baby) before heading back to California. Although Susan acts in a "hysterical" manner, the meeting goes smoothly (1.6.5).
    • Susan will be heading to Cali soon as well. She hires a woman named Lizzie to be their maid. Lizzie has a 7-month-old daughter she'll be bringing along, too.
    • But then, a problem arises: Oliver doesn't send money for Susan's train fare. This confuses and upsets Susan, and she considers calling the whole thing off. In the end, however, she decides to pay for her fare herself in the hopes that Oliver will pay her back.
    • And, with that, Susan Ward starts heading west.
  • Part 1, Chapter 7

    • In the present day, Lyman has just returned from a doctor's visit in Nevada City (which is in...California). There's nothing that's really bothering him, but he did it for Rodman's sake.
    • Nevada City has changed a lot since Lyman's youth—especially since the local quarry mines (his grandfather's Zodiac mine included) shut down some years ago.
    • Just then, Lyman runs into Al Sutton, a former classmate with "odd glasses" and a crazy lisp (1.7.9). As you might imagine, Lyman isn't too fond of socializing.
    • Al, on the other hand, takes the opportunity to ask every awkward question imaginable. "How's your wife, buddy?" (They're divorced.) "How's working at the university, pal?" (He's retired.) "What about that leg, huh? Why's that missing?" (Turns out, it's due to a bone disease.)
    • Yeah...awkward.
  • Part 2, Chapter 1

    Part II: New Almaden

    • Before meeting Oliver, Susan spends a night with Mary and Conrad Prager, Oliver's sister and her husband, in San Francisco. The Pragers are wealthy, so Susan is immediately comfy with them.
    • Oliver takes Susan to his mining camp the following day. The camp is pretty backwoodsy, but Susan is impressed by the Hacienda, where the mine's wealthy managers live.
    • After passing through the Hacienda, Oliver and Susan get to the Cornish camp, where Welsh immigrants who work at the mine live (2.1.30). There are other camps for Chinese and Mexican workers as well.
    • Finally, Oliver and Susan arrive at their cottage. It's actually surprisingly nice and is nestled in a pretty, isolated corner of the camp. Oliver even has a dog named Stranger. Adorbs.
    • After settling in, Susan builds up the nerve to ask Oliver about her train fare. Oliver is ashamed; he knows that he should have sent it to her but didn't have the money.
    • Susan is awoken the next morning by Oliver bartering with a Chinese man named John. Susan and Oliver spend the morning cleaning up his bachelor pad to make it fit for a married couple.
    • Later that afternoon, Susan and Oliver are visited by Mr. and Mrs. Kendall, "the manager and his wife" (2.1.130). Oliver tells Susan later that this is quite an unusual occurrence, crediting Susan's artistic reputation for the unexpected visit.
    • Susan and Oliver eat dinner at Mother Fall's, an inn in the Cornish camp. It's a wild place, so Oliver and Susan head home early.
  • Part 2, Chapter 2

    • For the first few days, Susan doesn't do much except write letters to Augusta. It isn't until the fifth day that she receives a letter back, however, and it's bad news: Augusta's child has died.
    • Susan desperately wishes that she could head home, but she just doesn't have the money. This makes her feel incredibly "trapped" (2.2.20).
    • It doesn't help that Susan doesn't have much to do all day. Luckily, she does have the occasional art assignment—she's currently using Lizzie as a model for an edition of The Scarlet Letter.
    • Still, given that Oliver works a ton, Susan still has oodles of time to burn. She spends most of it simply observing life on this wild mine in the middle of California.
  • Part 2, Chapter 3

    • Susan is watching Oliver descend into the mine. She watches as Tegoning, the elevator operator, pulls the lever that sends her husband deep into the earth.
    • Later, Susan's daily time-killing is interrupted by the sound of bells ringing. It turns out to be a group of Mexican workers bringing firewood to the house—Susan is so caught up by the scene that she grabs her notepad and draws the workers. She even gives their leader the drawing when she's finished.
    • Susan is still doing work on her portrait for The Scarlet Letter when Oliver returns home with an unfamiliar man in tow—Baron Starling, an "Austrian engineer" (2.3.44).
    • The two men spend the day surveying the mines before returning to the Ward family cottage. Although Susan is annoyed by Starling at first, she finds herself enthralled by his high-minded conversation, which she's been jonesing for really bad.
    • Susan raves about Starling after dinner. Oliver is less smitten: he doesn't think Starling is cut out for this work. Plus, the dude is clearly head over heels for the lovely Mrs. Ward.
    • The chapter closes with a few letters from Susan to Augusta discussing a recent visit the family made to the Pragers in SF.
  • Part 2, Chapter 4

    • As spring rolls in, things are actually going pretty well. Susan is enjoying life and has even received word that Augusta has had a second child.
    • Susan and Oliver receive a surprising number of visitors to their home, and Susan quickly becomes the talk of the town. Mary Prager even visits and is blown away by the picturesque locale.
    • Susan hasn't been working all that much, though. Whenever she tries, she finds that "she could hardly sit in a chair for ten consecutive minutes" (2.4.21).
    • To Susan's surprise, she receives a letter from Thomas requesting that she write a short piece about her life in New Almaden. He's been reading her letters to Augusta and is blown away.
    • Susan hastily writes a piece that night and sends it out the next day. Thinking that this effort isn't good enough, however, she writes another piece, this one about her experiences on Mexican Independence Day, and sends it out several days later.
  • Part 2, Chapter 5

    • Oliver has just arrived home from another hard day's work. He complains how Mr. Kendall doesn't take his suggestions seriously and wastes tons of money on low-quality equipment.
    • Oh, and also, Susan is pregnant. Oliver tells her that he wants to hire another woman (her name is Marian Prouse) to help out when the baby comes.
    • Augusta's daughter is born on April 22. Susan is super psyched when she gets the news. Then, she gets even more psyched to find out that both of her pieces are getting published.
    • Susan goes into labor almost immediately after receiving this letter. She gives birth to Lyman's father, who weighs a whopping 11 pounds at birth.
    • Susan loves the kid, of course, and calls him the "world's healthiest infant" (2.5.47). Still, it isn't long before Thomas requests more drawings, and she is back at work again.
  • Part 2, Chapter 6

    • Susan is once again hanging out while Oliver prepares to descend into the mine. Prager is there, too, and he asks Susan if she's ever been down there.
    • That's a nope—Mr. Kendall "did not believe in women going down into mines" (2.6.3). Prager won't take no for an answer, though, and suggests that Susan go down so she can sketch the scene later.
    • Amazingly, Prager convinces Oliver and Kendall to let Susan into the mine, although Kendall looks none too happy about it.
    • Susan is pretty scared: she panics a little each time the elevator lurches.
    • Finally, Susan reaches the bottom. Susan is still freaked out, but she's in awe of how strange it is down there.
    • Susan and company watch as a group of Mexican workers pound away at their work. Prager asks Susan what she thinks, and she offhandedly says that the workers seem like "prisoners" (2.6.64).
    • Kendall doesn't like this one bit. Susan can feel a great deal of tension between them until they finally reemerge above ground.
  • Part 2, Chapter 7

    • Oliver and Susan are strolling around the camp. They chat about their life, and Susan mentions that she wouldn't mind living here for an extended period of time.
    • Oliver gives Susan a strange reply that makes her think he's planning on taking a job somewhere else. Oliver denies it, however.
    • Susan and Oliver arrive at Oliver's office, and he begins puffing on his tobacco pipe. That's when Susan notices a new sign on the wall: "No smoking in this office. By order of the manager" (2.7.22).
    • Oliver explains that Kendall put this up specifically to get under his skin. Kendall has long been skeptical of Oliver, and Susan's "prisoners" comment seems like it was the last straw.
    • Apparently, Kendall even fired Tregoning just because Oliver liked him. To make it even worse, Kendall banned mine employees from buying Tregoning's property, which left the dude absolutely penniless.
    • As Susan ruminates over this, a man named Hernandez arrives to chat with Oliver. After Hernandez leaves, Susan tells Oliver that he shouldn't "compromise [his] principles" (2.7.105).
    • Oliver returns home at the end of the day and tells Susan that he quit. Susan had expected this, but she wasn't quite ready to face the reality of the situation.
    • So, Susan and Oliver will stay around for a few weeks while Oliver finishes up some things, and then they'll head off to who knows where.
    • Susan suggests using her money to keep them afloat until Oliver finds work, but Oliver isn't having it. The two finally agree that she can spend her money on the baby, but nothing else.
  • Part 3, Chapter 1

    Part III: Santa Cruz

    • Shelly has been a good assistant, but her personal life is overflowing with drama. Plus, it doesn't help that the girl lives life like she's at a Grateful Dead concert.
    • See, Shelly's ex-hubby (kinda) just showed up at her parents' house unannounced. Ada told him that Shelly wasn't there, but she suspects that he knows what's up.
    • Shelly meets this news with a mixture of fear and fascination, which is the foundation of every healthy romantic relationship, right? Right?
    • Anyway, Shelly decides to stay at Lyman's place for a few days to avoid the ex.
  • Part 3, Chapter 2

    • Shelly has pulled out one of Susan's drawings from the family's time in Santa Cruz.
    • At this time, Susan and Oliver are living on the water, and it's absolutely beautiful.
    • Oliver has received a job offer, but it's located in the middle of nowhere in Bolivia. Susan shoots down this idea quickly.
    • Oliver and Susan don't see each other very much these days—Oliver goes to San Francisco to look for work for weeks at a time.
    • Oliver is also experimenting in an attempt to create "hydraulic cement" (3.2.51). Susan pushes him to work harder on this so they can get rich and buy a McMansion in Santa Cruz.
  • Part 3, Chapter 3

    • Two months have passed. Susan wakes up in the morning alongside her hunky hubby.
    • By the way, Susan is boarding in the home of a woman named Mrs. Elliott. Mrs. Elliott tends to be a bit bossy and overbearing, which drives Susan crazy.
    • Oliver came in late the previous night, so he takes the opportunity to tell Susan about his recent job search. Still nothing. And, oh, yeah, he also managed to invent hydraulic cement. Score.
    • Susan gets super excited, but Oliver tells her to hold her horses. All he's done is invent it—now he needs to find rich folks to invest in it.
    • After chilling out, Susan complains to Oliver about Mrs. Elliott's "insufferable" attitude (3.3.43). Mrs. Elliott even talks trash about her own husband when he's not around. For shame.
    • This conversation eventually shifts into a more, well, intimate encounter between the two.
  • Part 3, Chapter 4

    • Susan and Mrs. Elliott are in a carriage after delivering Christmas presents to neighbors and friends.
    • Suddenly, Mrs. Elliott accuses Susan of making all of the decisions in her marriage. For example, she claims that Oliver doesn't have any interest in this whole cement business.
    • Susan defends herself, arguing that she and Oliver make their decisions as a couple. Furthermore, she's the one who's paying rent, which is evidence that they have a fairly equal relationship.
    • Upon hearing this, Mrs. Elliott says that "it's worse than [she] thought" (3.4.34).
  • Part 3, Chapter 5

    • This chapter consists of three brief letters from Susan to Augusta.
    • Here's the gist: Oliver is having trouble getting people to invest in his cement business. In fact, it's gotten so rough that he's considering taking a job from Prager in North Dakota.
  • Part 3, Chapter 6

    • It's now the winter of 1877, and Susan's dream of a cement empire is officially dead. Oliver is off in North Dakota performing a survey for mega-rich businessman George Hearst. While he's out there, Susan will be staying back at home on the East Coast.
    • Meanwhile, Susan has had to let go of Lizzie and Marian Prouse, which bums her out to no end. Luckily, both of them get married and live happily ever after, so no sweat.
    • Although she arrives in New York late at night, Susan is so upset that she just bolts out of the train with the baby. One ferry ride later, and she's back home with her "loving" family (3.6.23).
    • But, Susan is most excited to see Augusta. After she mentions this to her mother, she receives some awful news—Thomas is sick. Even worse, he and Augusta left town just last week to recover elsewhere.
  • Part 3, Chapter 7

    • Back in the present, Lyman is in a bummer of a mood. He describes his daily ritual, which begins with work in the mornings, continues with some hang time with Ada and Shelly in the afternoons, and ends with him running a few laps around the courtyard on his crutches.
    • Lyman actually saw Shelly's husband once during a daily jog. Dude simply smiled, waved, and walked away. Weird.
    • Lyman tells Shelly about this episode, and she responds with amusement. Shouldn't she be scared of her stalker ex-husband? Regardless, she doesn't think he'll stay around much longer.
    • The ex does leave, but not before playing one final trick: he orders 24 canaries on Shelly's credit card and delivers them to her parents' house. Because that makes sense.
    • All this stunt does is make Lyman appreciate his grandmother even more—she'd never get with a shady dude like that.
  • Part 4, Chapter 1

    Part IV: Leadville

    • Rodman has just arrived at the Zodiac Cottage, and he loudly greets Ada as he enters the house. The two chat a bit about Lyman's health before Rodman goes up to his dad's office.
    • Rodman and Lyman talk about Granny Ward's story for a bit, and Lyman catches Rodman up on everything that's happened so far.
    • Lyman also explains that George Hearst had wanted Oliver to create falsified documents with "fake testimony" in order to speed up the permit process (4.1.47). Naturally, Oliver quit the job.
    • Luckily, Oliver got hired pretty quickly by a man named Horace Tabor to survey and oversee a mine in Leadville, Colorado.
    • But, Lyman isn't actually going to write about any of that. To him, it's straight-up boring—his book is about a marriage, after all, and the marriage is on hold at the moment.
    • Then, Rodman drops a bomb—he hung out with his mom recently. That would have been bad enough, but it turns out she's also got an apartment nearby. Oh, the horror. She also wants to see Lyman, but he scoffs at the idea. In his eyes, she's already "made her bed"—now it's time for her to lie in it (4.1.82).
  • Part 4, Chapter 2

    • Susan has just arrived in Denver. She searches for Oliver on the train platform and finds him pretty quickly—he looks older, with a "thinned-down face" (4.2.2).
    • Susan and Oliver embrace happily. Their son, Ollie, isn't with Susan, however: he fell ill just before she was supposed to leave and is staying with her family in Milton to recover.
    • After a quick meal, Susan and Oliver rush to catch another train.
    • Oliver tells Susan about life at the camp. It's a rough-and-tumble place—not too long ago, he was faced down by a dude with a shotgun looking to steal his land. Oliver ended up surrendering the lot, but that's mostly just because he's making a ton of money right now.
    • The train stops. Oliver and Susan emerge into a wild scene filled with workers and wagons and activity. Oliver leads Susan through the crowd until they reach a wagon that he loads up with their stuff.
    • But, why aren't Oliver and Susan going on the public stagecoach? Oliver doesn't really respond, but we can tell that he doesn't like the idea of his smokin' hot wife around a bunch of skeezy miners.
    • So, Oliver and Susan ride. They pass by an ore wagon stuck in the mud, but Oliver refuses to stop and help, much to Susan's confusion.
    • Oliver and Susan pass the stagecoach a bit later. As they go alongside it, Susan is overwhelmed with the stench of "whiskey" emanating from the coach (4.2.91). Charming.
    • Suddenly, the empty road ends, and Oliver and Susan find themselves in a tiny village filled with a surprising amount of people. Looks like they'll be crashing in a hotel tonight.
    • But then, Oliver and Susan get a huge buzzkill—the hotel has given away the room that Oliver reserved and paid for. Susan can tell that Oliver is infuriated by this, but he doesn't do anything.
    • Instead, Susan and Oliver head to a nearby boarding house and spend an uncomfortable night in a room filled with dozens of people.
    • Susan can hardly sleep. As soon as it's light outside, she wakes up Oliver and begs him to get going.
    • With that, Susan and Oliver are back on their way to Leadville. At one point, Susan decides to stretch her legs and stroll alongside the wagon, but that doesn't last long.
    • Oliver notices that one of the horses looks sick and "dull-eyed" (4.2.178). He walks alongside to lighten the load and push the sick horse along.
    • Suddenly, Oliver and Susan see a stagecoach approaching them at breakneck speed. Oliver furiously whips the horses in order to get out of the way, which upsets Susan's delicate sensibilities but ends up saving their lives.
    • The sick horse dies soon afterward. Oliver and Susan have to buy a new one (which, uh, also dies), but they finally make it to Leadville.
  • Part 4, Chapter 3

    • Leadville is a "long gulch [...] littered with wreckage, shacks, and mine tailings" (4.3.1). Sounds lovely, doesn't it?
    • There's a big commotion up ahead. Oliver avoids Susan's curious questions and steers them away to a secluded path.
    • Finally, Oliver and Susan see the house: it's a tiny log cabin. There's smoke already coming out of the chimney, which Oliver credits to Frank Sargent, a son of a general, who is Oliver's assistant.
    • Oliver and Susan enter the house. It's a little disappointing to Susan, as it's just one room. Not exactly a penthouse suite.
    • Just then, Frank arrives. He was apparently off hunting flowers for Susan's arrival (what a smooth customer), but he couldn't find any.
    • Frank mentions the commotion in town. Oliver tries to kill the conversation, but Susan forces Frank to give her the 411.
    • Turns out, two men were just "hanged [...] out in front of the jail" (4.3.49). One of them was Jeff Oates, the dude who had stolen Oliver's land. The other guy had apparently shot up a stagecoach—presumably the one Oliver and Susan had seen hightailing it out of town.
  • Part 4, Chapter 4

    • Despite the chaos of the camp, Susan actually lives a pretty breezy life. Her favorite part of the day is the morning, when she lounges in bed while Oliver cooks up some breakfast.
    • On this particular day, Susan and Oliver are discussing an upcoming visit from Conrad Prager. This just makes Susan think about bringing Ollie to Leadville so that they can be a complete family again.
    • Once Oliver leaves, Susan pretty much does whatever she wants. Sometimes, she goes out riding with Frank (whom she describes in glowing terms to Augusta) or Pricey, another one of Oliver's assistants, whom she describes as a "goose" (4.4.21).
    • During the evenings, the whole gang (Oliver, Susan, Frank, and Pricey) usually just hangs out in the cabin.
    • Pricey, goofy Englishman that he is, just reads all night in the rocking chair. Sometimes, he rocks so hard that he almost pushes himself straight into the fire.
    • But Susan loves Pricey, despite his goofiness. One day, he even spontaneously quotes a Ralph Waldo Emerson poem while they are gallivanting through the woods together.
    • There aren't many of Susan's letters from these days, although she did later write three novels that took place in the camp town.
    • Regardless, Leadville is in the midst of a major boom. Suddenly, there's construction happening all over town, and (gasp) there are even women there now. Susan befriends one lady, Helen Hunt Jackson, pretty much immediately.
    • That's just the start of it: soon afterward, the United States Geological Survey Party arrives, followed a few days later by Conrad Prager and his posse. Suddenly, Leadville has gone from being the middle of nowhere to being a bustling little town.
  • Part 4, Chapter 5

    • We're taken to one of the bustling social evenings in Leadville.
    • The event begins with Helen Hunt Jackson grilling the Geological Survey dudes over whether they would illegally give inside info to their business friends. Coming out swinging, huh?
    • Clarence King, the director of the survey, scoffs at the question. The room devolves into a bunch of jokes, which Susan thinks is good because a question that inflammatory might cause a fistfight.
    • Helen attempts to get King to answer the question straight up, but he refuses—that is, until Oliver "unexpectedly" pipes in to second Helen's request for an actual answer (4.5.34).
    • Susan sees this as a huge faux pas. Luckily, King manages to give a good enough answer (that he only hires men he trusts with his life) to defuse the situation.
    • Soon afterward, the guests begin gathering their things, thanking their hosts for a lovely evening, and strolling out the door.
    • Alone now, Susan takes the opportunity to chew out Oliver for his utter lack of social skills. This is a recurring complaint for her, it seems.
    • Oliver tells Susan that she shouldn't worry about King not liking him because after all, the dude's already given him a job with the Geological Survey.
    • Susan apologizes for being a "foolish woman" who doubts her husband (4.5.104). She quickly becomes excited at the prospect of Oliver doing something he truly loves.
    • The couple begins to kiss passionately and...the chapter ends.
  • Part 4, Chapter 6

    • Back in the present, Shelly is criticizing Lyman for being afraid to depict his grandparents' "sex life" (4.6.6). Um...GROSS.
    • Although he's writing a novel, not a nonfiction book, Lyman has no interest in delving into sexual issues. He blames Shelly's concerns on her generation's obsession with free love.
    • In Lyman's mind, sexuality was a private thing for his grandma and her generation, so he should respect their wishes and keep it private as well.
    • Shelly says that this strategy will make readers think that Lyman is purposely avoiding the issue, which—to be honest—he is.
    • But, that sex scene didn't actually lead to a happy resolution. Oliver found out the next day that he would have to travel a bunch if he were to join the survey, which means that Susan would have to go back to Milton.
    • Instead, Oliver decides to become the manager of a mine in Leadville.
  • Part 4, Chapter 7

    • In September, Oliver begins building additional rooms on the house ("a kitchen, bedroom, and cast rock fireplace") to prepare their tiny home for the arrival of baby Ollie (4.7.2).
    • In November, Susan heads back to Milton to pick up the baby. Oliver rides with her as far as Chicago, but their goodbye is far less tearful this time around.
    • Susan spends her time in Milton reintroducing herself to her son, spending time with her family, and even writing a novel. Talk about being productive.
    • Finally, the day comes when Susan and Ollie must leave. This provokes a strange reaction from Bessie and John—it turns out that John "envies Oliver" for heading out west (4.7.39).
    • Although Susan tells Bessie and John that they can come out and live with her and Oliver, she quickly realizes that it would be impossible right now.
  • Part 4, Chapter 8

    • Susan and Ollie are in a train heading west. Susan tells the little boy stories to keep him occupied until their train arrives in Buena Vista, Colorado.
    • As Susan is helping Ollie off the train, she notices Oliver in the corner of her eye and embraces him with a kiss. Wait a second...that's not Oliver—it's Frank. And he seems really into that kiss.
    • The real Oliver pops up a moment later, and he and Susan share a tender embrace. When they're done lovin' each other up, Oliver bends down and scoops up little Ollie into a warm hug.
    • Given that it's really cold here in the winter, the family hustles to Leadville. Immediately, Susan can tell that the town is "not so much on the boom as last year" (4.8.27).
    • As they ride, Oliver tells Susan about some recent heroics of Frank's. Some dudes were trying to take their land once again, but Frank stood them off with a rifle. Ol' Susie is quite impressed.
    • Finally, the family arrives. Pricey was supposed to have a fire going, but the chimney is conspicuously smokeless. They unload their stuff into the house, but Oliver and Frank quickly grab guns and go out searching for Pricey.
    • Susan and Ollie talk about how he's adjusting to his new home. He seems to like it all right, he supposes.
    • Suddenly, the conversation is interrupted by a knock at the door. It's Frank and Oliver, holding "a man's body between them" (4.8.11). Susan begins to scream.
  • Part 4, Chapter 9

    • In case you didn't already guess, Frank and Oliver are carrying Pricey. He doesn't die, but Susan can see that his mental faculties have been damaged greatly by the attack on him.
    • Susan tries to contact Pricey's family in England, but they don't seem very eager to bring him back home. They just want to pay someone to look after him in America.
    • Everyone is pretty depressed, which makes Susan realize in hindsight that Oliver should have definitely taken the job "on the Survey" (4.9.20).
    • One day, Susan, Ollie, and Pricey take a stroll to pick wildflowers. Pricey actually seems like he's getting better—he even rattles off the scientific names of flowers without realizing it.
    • Oliver returns a few hours later, followed by Frank, who's lugging a mandolin. They spend the evening singing songs on the porch and having a grand old time.
    • Susan can tell that Frank is crushing on her pretty hard by now. Although she knows that she must be faithful to Oliver, she has to admit that "his adoration made her feel excited" (4.9.57).
    • Just then, Ollie begins shivering—his fever has come back with a fury. This time, it'll stick around for several weeks.
  • Part 4, Chapter 10

    • Susan becomes a paranoid mess when Ollie gets sick. She spends her days wandering around the house in a daze, unable to focus on anything but her son's health.
    • Finally, after about six weeks, Ollie gets better. Huzzah. Seeing the mental toll that this ordeal has taken on his wife, Oliver gives Susan a "sleeping draught" to help her relax (4.10.10).
    • Although she debates whether or not to take it, Susan finally gives in. She doesn't wake up for 16 hours.
    • Oliver then reveals that he has sent Pricey back home to England to live with his family. This makes Susan sad, but she's pretty sure that Oliver made the right decision.
    • Susan and Oliver discuss how bad things have been in Leadville lately. Oliver tells Susan that he might have scored a sweet gig in Mexico: the bigwigs want him to see if an old mine in Michoacán is still viable.
    • Susan and Oliver will have to take Ollie back to Milton, but anything is better than what's happening now.
    • Finally, Susan gives the word—it's on like Donkey Kong.
  • Part 5, Chapter 1

    Part V: Michoacán

    • We're going to start off this one with the quote that kicks off this chapter: "My mother died when I was two, my father was a silent and difficult man" (5.1.1). All righty then, Lyman.
    • Lyman's grandparents had a tense relationship when he was growing up: Grandma seemed like she was afraid of Grandpa. In fact, the only time he ever heard her laugh was when she had guests over.
    • Given that his grandpa pretty much ran Grass Valley at the time, Lyman lived a pretty easy life. Servants waited on his every need, and the whole town gave him respect.
    • One day, Lyman told his grandmother that he was writing a report on Mexico. She excitedly told him how much she loved it when she lived there, how it was her "Paris and [her] Rome" (5.1.18).
    • Lyman ends up using one of his grandmother's stories as the basis for the report, which gets her psyched beyond belief.
    • Seriously, Susan falls in love with Mexico as soon as she arrives. In fact, she begins sketching scenes furiously even before the train stops.
    • Susan and Oliver arrive in their new home in Morelia, Mexico. They're going to be staying with Don Gustavo Walkenhorst, a wealthy German who lives with his dead wife's sister, Emelita. They have a nice place, to say the least.
    • Oliver and Susan stand on the balcony and thank their lucky stars that they ended up here.
  • Part 5, Chapter 2

    • Susan wakes up early and leaves her room to "watch the Casa Walkenhorst come awake" (5.2.2). As it turns out, this is a pretty involved process.
    • Susan sits down in the central court, which is surrounded by 20 luxurious rooms. Fancy.
    • There's a ton of activity—a coachman arriving with a group of dogs; maids scurrying around and tidying; and Don Gustavo's daughter Enriqueta running around playfully.
    • Susan returns to the room to find Oliver awake. She raves to her husband about how good of a housekeeper Emelita is.
    • Oliver talks about his job. He's not fully convinced that the mine will turn out to be valuable, but there's a lot of pressure from Don Gustavo and his business partner Don Pedro Gutierrez for him to file a favorable report.
    • If the mine turns out to be good, though, he might be able to score a job running it. Maybe Susan could even have a "palace" like this one to call her own (5.2.52).
    • Our little material girl loves the idea.
  • Part 5, Chapter 3

    • Susan is on the balcony as Oliver packs supplies onto a donkey—he's finally going to be surveying the mine with Don Pedro and Don Gustavo. Susan quickly sketches the scene.
    • It's only going to be a three-week trip, but these dudes are sparing no expense. Don Pedro has even packed up a full-sized bed, "complete with springs and mattress" (5.3.8).
    • Finally, the men are all packed up and ready to go. All the wives (Susan included) come downstairs to bid their hubbies adieu.
    • It's an extremely formal little ceremony: Susan receives a kiss on the hand from each man. Oliver seems amused by the whole deal and gives her a warm hug and kiss goodbye.
    • As the men ride off, the ladies stand "fluttering handkerchiefs from the balustrade" (5.3.38).
  • Part 5, Chapter 4

    • This chapter consists of a few letters from Susan to Augusta.
    • Susan describes how much she's been sketching lately, usually following Emelita around and drawing every last thing that she does.
    • Susan also tells Augusta about a house that Emelita has suggested that she and Oliver buy. But, it only has a mere 12 rooms. How will they ever survive?
    • In addition, Susan comes across a market that she desperately wants to draw. She begs Emelita to join her the following morning for a sketch session, and Emelita reluctantly agrees, nervous because it is considered inappropriate for women to go out alone.
    • The sketch session goes fine, but Emelita and company seem to feel like the whole adventure was a "mortal sin" (5.4.31). Susan vows to come back, but alone next time.
    • Susan ends the letter with her excitement that Oliver will be back home in a mere week.
  • Part 5, Chapter 5

    • Susan is lying in bed, "looking through her journal, rewriting incidents and observations into coherent paragraphs" (5.5.1).
    • Apparently, Thomas and Augusta have just arrived in Mexico for a visit. Why didn't anyone tell us? The only problem is that a bunch of other people have arrived, too, like Clarence King and Bessie, which means that Susan and Oliver don't have anywherenear enough room.
    • Suddenly, Susan's eyes open. Wait, what? Oh, okay, we understand it now—that was a dream.
    • Oliver has just arrived. Susan tells him about her dream, but she can tell that something is wrong.
    • Turns out, the mine is no good, after all. Or, it might be good, but it'll be way too expensive for Oliver to recommend that someone invest money into it.
    • This causes Susan to utter an unthinkably dirty cussword: "damn" (5.5.19). That's practically the F-word for a classy Quaker like our gal Susan.
    • So, where else can Oliver and Susan go? Leadville is no good. Staying in Mexico is out of the question. To put it simply, they're stuck between a rock and a hard place.
  • Part 5, Chapter 6

    • Immediately, Susan can tell that the mood around Casa Walkenhorst has drastically changed. Neither Don Gustavo nor Emelita will give the couple the time of day.
    • Don Pedro is a lot nicer, however. Susan decides to reward this kindness by giving him a drawing she made of his wife, which was "one of her best" (5.6.3).
    • As she packs her bags, Susan comes across her riding clothes, which she hasn't worn once since leaving Leadville. She smells them and is immediately taken back to her time in that tiny town.
    • Susan thinks back to her goodbye to Frank. It was a tense conversation, with both of them doing a bad job of concealing their affection toward the other.
    • Frank had even asked Susan for a kiss before she left. She complied, leaning forward to kiss his cheek, but he suddenly "grabbed her hard" and kissed her on the mouth (5.6.26). How rude.
    • But, let's just ignore that for now—we're 100 percent sure that this won't come back to haunt Susan in any form or fashion. No, siree.
  • Part 6, Chapter 1

    Part VI: On the Bough

    • Holy smokes—Susan is finally hanging out with Thomas and Augusta. It's like a dream come true.
    • Susan is having the time of her life. It certainly helps that Thomas is showering her with praise for her "remarkable" skills as an artist and undeniable classiness (6.1.10).
    • After some prodding, Susan reveals that she's working on a novel set in Leadville. It's about the daughter of an evil business tycoon who falls in love with a ruggedly handsome mine engineer. Sounding familiar to you guys?
    • But, that engineer isn't based on Oliver—it's based on Frank. That's shady. Then, the shadiness levels go off the charts when Susan blushes at Augusta's assertion that Frank is in love with her.
    • The conversation then shifts to Oliver, although Susan feels like Augusta doesn't actually care. Turns out, ol' Oliver is in Boise, Idaho, laying low during a brutal winter.
    • The mood in the room has definitely shifted. Thomas loudly complains about being tired, so Susan gets up to leave. Before she does, however, Augusta pulls her aside for some real talk. Do you love Frank? Nope. Do you want the baby you're pregnant with? Yep.
    • Wait—what?
    • Turns out, Susan is indeed preggers, but she hasn't told Oliver. She doesn't want to put any undue pressure on him to "take any job that comes up" (6.1.67).
    • The two women share an emotional goodbye.
  • Part 6, Chapter 2

    • Susan is standing in the kitchen when she sees Oliver walking up to the house. The couple shares a Notebook-worthy embrace and head back into the house.
    • Oliver tells Susan that she should be in bed right now. That informs us that (a) he knows that she was pregnant and (b) she's already given birth to the kid.
    • The kid's name is Zardoz.
    • Just kidding.
    • The kid's name is Elizabeth, aka Betsy.
    • Although Oliver is psyched, he's still bummed that Susan didn't even send him a "letter" before she gave birth (6.2.27). Before long, their conversation escalates into a full-blown argument.
    • It turns out that Oliver has done a bit of selective truth-telling, too. Although Susan thinks he's been traveling, looking for a good town to settle in, he's actually been working on a harebrained scheme to bring water to the desert in Idaho. He even has the support of Clarence King.
    • The plan, roughly, is to build a canal through the Idaho desert, selling water rights to local farmers. As the canal grows, the number of farmers flocking to the area should grow, too.
    • Susan does not seem into the idea, but Oliver is persistent, and he refuses be long distance any longer.
    • We think you can probably guess what Susan ends up doing.
  • Part 7, Chapter 1

    Part VII: The Canyon

    • Look what we have for you today—a fresh letter from Susan to Augusta, hot off the presses.
    • Tl;dr—Idaho is boring. Everything is going well with the kids, but Susan feels awfully isolated out there.
    • Oh, and Oliver has hired Frank again and "arranged for him to join [them]" in Idaho, along with his new assistant, Wiley (7.1.13). NBD, of course.
  • Part 7, Chapter 2

    • Lyman starts off this chapter with a disclaimer that this wasn't Susan's best period of letter-writing. He only has a few documents that attest to this period.
    • We do learn that Susan has a miscarriage at one point, but Lyman doesn't give us any other details.
    • In a letter to Augusta, Susan informs us that they were forced to move into a tiny camp at the base of a canyon because they lost some funding. Oliver is still going full speed ahead, however—he's even naming the main stretch "the Susan Canal" (7.2.7).
    • So, what else is new? A Chinese dude named Charley Wan now cooks for Susan and Oliver. They've also hired Nellie Winton, a girl from back east, to help around the house, and Mrs. Briscoe, a local lady, to help with the kids.
  • Part 7, Chapter 3

    • Eventually, the Arrow Rock Dam does get built, but Oliver doesn't end up getting any credit for it. It seems like the government just took control of the project at some point.
    • The family ends up staying in the canyon camp for about five more years. It's actually a pretty happy time for everyone involved.
    • So, let's stop this time jumping and settle in to September 1883.
    • The whole crew is chilling beside the water, enjoying a roaring campfire. They've just failed to secure financial backing once again. This time it's especially bad, though: without money, they won't be able to do any more work for the rest of the year.
    • Oliver doesn't even have enough cash to pay Frank and Wiley anymore. Without hesitating, both men volunteer to keep working for free.
    • That's when someone gets the bright idea to spend the winter building a house. That way, Frank and Wiley can move into the shack for the winter, while the Ward family can be someplace that's a little more comfortable.
    • There's one problem: Susan is the only one with cash right now. Although Oliver doesn't want to use it, she convinces him by saying that she'll pay for the house now but "sell it back to the company [...] for twice what it costs" once they get back on their feet (7.3.55).
    • Next, we see a letter to Augusta detailing the construction of the house. Everyone is having a jolly good time, despite the brutal Idaho winter. Even Charley Wan has stuck around.
  • Part 7, Chapter 4

    • The following years are relatively uneventful. By 1885, the project has been struggling for so long that Frank and Wiley are forced to find other jobs.
    • Wiley finds a job in Colorado pretty quickly. Then, just a week later, Frank announces that he has received a job offer in Oregon—and he's leaving tomorrow.
    • Oliver leaves Frank and Susan alone to say goodbye. Yes, you guessed it—they speak in a bunch of vague innuendo about how much they love each other.
    • Then, Frank calls Susan out for being pregnant (she's pregnant?), calling it "evidence [...] of how much [she belongs] to someone else" (7.4.34). Susan does not like this comment and doesn't even give Frank a kiss goodbye.
    • Fast-forward a few months. Because she's supporting the family, Susan is working hard, even though she is by now several months pregnant.
    • The baby is kicking hard, so Susan goes looking for Mrs. Briscoe. No luck. She asks Nellie if she knows what's up, but all the girl knows is that Mrs. Briscoe left to take a walk. Come to think of it, Ollie is missing, too…
    • Actually, Ollie is outside with his dad, working on a windmill. This frustrates Susan, as she feels that the boy spends too much time tinkering and not enough time getting educated.
    • Susan heads out to the windmill, but Oliver is working alone. According to him, Ollie left with Mrs. Briscoe to take a walk "down by the creek" (7.4.72).
    • Susan goes back inside and stares out the window at the river that surrounds their humble abode. Oliver built a bridge across the water, but the thing shakes and rattles and even dips under the water at times. Scary stuff.
    • Then, in the distance, Susan sees Mrs. Briscoe: she's drinking from a bottle. After a moment, Mrs. Briscoe gets up, motioning for Ollie to follow, and walks to the bridge. The boy seems to be carrying a package under his arm.
    • Ollie starts crossing the bridge (which is enough to send Susan into a panic) but quickly loses his footing and drops the package into the raging water, which sends Susan screaming bloody murder and running through the field toward the river.
    • In an instant, Oliver is there, scooping up Ollie and bringing him safely to the other side. Phew—we were getting a little nervous.
    • Susan goes nuts and demands to know what was in the package. After some prodding, Ollie admits that Mrs. Briscoe asked him to get a box of whiskey that she had hidden nearby.
    • Susan fires Mrs. Briscoe and tells Oliver to take her away asap. That's pretty risky, given that Susan is close to giving birth and there aren't any other midwives in the area.
    • So, Oliver takes Mrs. Briscoe away. Susan gets her first childbirth pains about an hour later because, of course.
    • That leaves poor little Nellie to take charge of the situation. Their only hope is to get in touch with Mrs. Olpen, a neighbor who's the only person nearby with any experience with kids.
    • The only way for this to happen is for Ollie to cross the bridge all by himself, which his mother has forbidden him from doing. Given that Susan's a bit incapacitated, Ollie is sure she won't mind.
    • Ollie successfully crosses the bridge and hops on a horse. His plan is to visit a nearby workman named John and ask him to hustle over to the Olpens.
    • When Ollie meets up with John, the plan changes—John will ride ahead in an attempt to meet up with Oliver, while Ollie will head to the Olpens' house.
    • Ollie finds Mrs. Olpen in the front yard chopping the head off a chicken with "one short blow" (7.4.175). She agrees to help but takes so long to get ready that they're still there when Oliver pulls up in the distance.
    • Mrs. Olpen rides in the buggy with Oliver while Ollie follows behind on his pony. They finally reach the house, and Ollie plays outside while the adults do their thing.
    • A while later, Oliver comes outside and tells Ollie how proud of him he is. He even lets Ollie cross the bridge by himself (as long as he promises not to tell his mom, of course).
    • A real doctor arrives later that day, which is a huge relief. And then, finally, Susan gives birth to a bouncing baby girl.
  • Part 7, Chapter 5

    • It's now 1887. Susan is alone in the house at night because Oliver is at a meeting for his project.
    • But, Oliver should have been back a long time ago—which could either be really good or really bad. With nothing else to do, Susan leaves the house, crossing the bridge and sitting in a field.
    • Suddenly, Susan hears "a musical, drawn-out howling" (7.5.23). Is it a wolf? A coyote? An alien? Actually, it's none of the above—it's Oliver, singing as he rides his horse.
    • Susan jumps out and surprises Oliver when he gets closer; that stops his singing real quick. He looks pretty embarrassed, too.
    • Based on his happy singing, Susan assumes that Oliver's got good news. That's a big nope, replies Oliver. That's when Susan realizes the real reason behind this strange cheerfulness: Oliver's drunk.
    • In case you didn't know, there's nothing Susan hates more than a drunk. Looks like Oliver will be sleeping in the shack tonight.
  • Part 7, Chapter 6

    • These are rough times for the family. The relationship between Oliver and Susan is more strained than ever, and that's not even mentioning their constant financial difficulties.
    • Susan and Oliver do get some kind of good news in November 1888: Major John Wesley Powell, the new director of the United States Geological Survey, wants to hire Oliver.
    • Oliver suggests that Susan move back to Milton, but she shoots the idea down. Her parents have recently died, forcing Bessie and John to sell their grand old home for something far smaller.
    • Susan wants Oliver to take the job, but she has one request—he must stop drinking. Oliver refuses to make any promises, only saying that he needs to "work it out for [himself]" (7.6.30).
    • The one thing Oliver promises is that he won't bring any booze of his own. Uh, that's something, we suppose.
  • Part 7, Chapter 7

    • Shelly's husband has been contacting her a lot recently. Lyman isn't very happy about this, especially because it means that she talks to him nonstop about her personal drama.
    • But today, Shelly wants to know about Lyman's grandparents. She wants to know whether Susan was "really thinking of leaving" Oliver, or if Lyman is just assuming that (7.7.5). Lyman admits that it's just conjecture.
    • Shelly is sure that Oliver never stopped drinking, though, because her dad would tell her about the ragers he would throw back in the day. Regardless, she doesn't remember seeing any letters from Susan about his drinking, so she's pretty confused.
    • It turns out that Lyman has a secret file containing all of Susan's most "private" letters (7.7.39). Even those letters are vague, however, which has led him to contact the Idaho Historical Society for any mentions of the family in the newspaper.
    • Lyman finally comes clean (to us, not to Shelly) about how he's writing this book to understand his own failed marriage to Ellen. He even wonders whether she ever loved him.
    • And now, we finally hear the story of how Ellen left Lyman. It happened mere months after his leg was amputated—he awoke one morning to find out that she had left him for his surgeon. Ouch.
    • Ellen's story didn't end happily ever after, however. One day, the surgeon left their cabin on Huntington Lake for a stroll and never returned. His body was found months later.
    • Suddenly, Lyman's grumpy 'tude makes a lot more sense. But, let's not dilly-dally on this nonsense—it's time for the Susan Ward Fun Hour.
    • In the end, Susan decides to take the kids to Vancouver Island while Oliver works with the survey. The new baby's name is Agnes, by the way.
    • Susan is packing up her things when her eye is caught by a book that Frank had given her years ago. Then, just like magic, she looks out the window and sees "Frank Sargent unsaddling his sorrel horse [...] at the corral gate" (7.7.88).
    • Frank tells Susan (while holding her hand, of course) that he's only here to get his stuff. He introduces himself to Agnes, but that's about it—Oliver and Ollie are out and about.
    • So, Frank and Susan go out on a completely platonic stroll. They eventually sit down, and Susan starts complaining like crazy about her schmuck of a husband and his many business failures.
    • It isn't long before Susan and Frank are straight-up making out. Lyman seems really uncomfortable with the thought of anything sexual happening between these two, even though he admits that it's likely.
    • Susan eventually stops Frank, although it's clear that she's very conflicted. They eventually get up and start walking back to the house, hand in hand.
    • Susan and Frank are still hand in hand when they come across Oliver and Ollie returning from town. Although Oliver doesn't say anything, she worries that he knows that something is up.
  • Part 8, Chapter 1

    Part VIII: The Mesa

    • Although Susan claims that she was forced into a separation from her husband, Lyman is pretty sure that it was Susan herself who was behind it.
    • Susan continues writing stories and drawing pictures on Vancouver Island. It's a nice place, but she doesn't feel entirely settled.
    • In 1889, Susan receives a letter from Oliver telling her that their irrigation plan might be alive after all. She even halfheartedly suggests that Thomas and Augusta buy land along the canal so they can live near each other for once.
    • Susan finally heads back to Idaho in August of that year. This is by far the least exciting reuniting this couple has had so far.
    • Oliver loads everyone up into a buggy and heads out of town. Susan looks at the familiar Idaho backwoods until she spots a giant house with a "veranda-like promenade" surrounding the front (8.1.40).
    • This is Susan and Oliver's home. Susan is shocked—it's exactly the type of home they had talked about building. Oliver even moved a bunch of yellow climber roses from their house in the valley and will be planting a full-on rose garden next summer.
    • But, how did Oliver get the money? First, he had the company buy back the canyon home for the agreed-upon price. Second, he sold a few stocks of canal land to Bessie and John.
    • Susan doesn't like the idea of Bessie and John being caught up in the business. To be honest, she's not even very excited about the house—it feels too permanent.
    • It does cheer up Susan to know that some old friends are still around. Wiley, Charley Wan, and John the workman have all been hired back by Oliver.
    • Oh, yeah, and Frank will be coming back, too. Susan's heart jumps at the sound of his name, and she worries that Oliver was "searching her face for an answer to a question of his own" (8.1.81).
  • Part 8, Chapter 2

    • Lyman is worried that he drinks too much. If you're asking, buddy, the answer to that question is probably yes.
    • Regardless, Lyman is going cold turkey as of today—but not before taking one final drink, of course.
    • What's more, Lyman has to face the prospect that he may never finish this book. Shelly will be leaving for school soon, and Ada is looking unhealthier by the day, which leaves him stuck without a helper.
  • Part 8, Chapter 3

    • Guess what we've got for you, folks—a bunch of letters from Susan to Augusta.
    • Things are going well, both for the family and the canal project. Susan tells Augusta that Frank's feelings toward her are still really obvious, but she's quite capable of resisting.
    • Sure.
    • In August, Susan sends Ollie to St. Paul's, a boarding school on the East Coast. He doesn't want to go but has no choice.
    • There are still plenty of problems with the canal project. For example, there's a rash of people stealing land that has already been claimed.
    • In one letter, Susan thanks Augusta for letting Ollie visit them. That's nice. Then, in the next letter, she thanks Augusta for letting Frank visit them. That's less nice.
    • On June 16, 1890, "the water was turned into the first fifteen miles of the Susan Canal" (8.3.61). This is exciting for Susan, especially because it means that Bessie and John will be moving out next fall.
    • Susan's next letter is filled with bad news. First, work on the canal has been stopped once again for the typical reasons (namely: $$$). The second one is even worse: a lawyer named Bradford Burns has pulled some shady business and claimed Bessie and John's land as his own.
    • What frustrates Susan is that Oliver, in typical Oliver fashion, refuses to put his foot down and confront Burns. To make things worse, the family is too broke right now to pay back Bessie and John.
  • Part 8, Chapter 4

    • Susan is sending the kids off to their lessons when Oliver returns home from work.
    • After the kids leave, Susan gets down to brass tacks. What's up with the whole Burns situation? Can they get Bessie and John their money back?
    • Oliver shakes his head. Given that Burns is a successful (and immensely shady) lawyer, they're unlikely to have any luck taking him to court.
    • Oliver suggests moving Bessie and John out to company property and then getting them better land once "the company gets straightened out" (8.4.56). Susan has no problem with this in theory, but she's doubtful that the canal will ever be successful at this point.
    • Oliver admits that it was a mistake to trust Burns, but trust is the most important thing in the world to him. In Susan's head, this statement feels almost accusatory.
  • Part 8, Chapter 5

    • It's the Fourth of July. Susan isn't in a partying mood, however—she's so depressed that she stays home alone while the rest of the family goes to the city and watches fireworks.
    • So, Susan lies in the hammock on the veranda and watches the fireworks explode overhead. Suddenly, she hears footsteps approach and begins panicking.
    • It's Frank. Of course. He and Susan talk about business for a little before Frank admits that he "came down hoping they'd all be gone to town but [Susan]" (8.5.56).
    • And here's some more vague lovey-dovey talk. Frank finally puts his foot down, saying that he must leave because he can't stand being in this situation any longer.
    • Frank begs Susan to marry him and run away to Mexico. She's aghast at the idea, but we can tell that it excites her on some level.
    • Then, Frank grabs "her bare foot" (8.5.110). Hmm...that seems awfully familiar, for some reason. Susan can't resist any longer and finally gives in to his seduction.
    • (One of the best parts of this passage is how uncomfortable it makes Lyman. You've really got to read it for yourself. Also worth noting: Lyman is making up this scene from scratch, as he has no document detailing what exactly went down. Very interesting…)
    • Oliver returns later that night to find Susan already in bed. He asks her what Frank wanted.
    • Huh?
    • Not knowing if she should lie, Susan claims that Frank wanted to talk business with Oliver.
    • But, how did Oliver know? It's pretty simple: Frank left his glove on the porch.
    • We think we can speak for the entire Shmoop-iverse when we say yikes.
  • Part 8, Chapter 6

    • It's now September in the present day. Lyman feels uneasy, partially because he knows his time is running out and partially because he has received some "disturbing" new information from the Idaho Historical Society (8.6.2).
    • Shelly normally comes in every day, but she's taken off for the last two weekends. Lyman assumes that this was because she was getting ready for school, but Ada suspects that she's been meeting up with her ex again.
    • Shelly's here today, though. Oddly, the first thing she does is silently hand Lyman a long pamphlet about some super-hippie commune.
    • Shelly wants to know Lyman's opinion of the pamphlet. Lyman scoffs, saying that while the commune certainly has "historical precedents," such a high-minded project could never be successful as long as there are fickle human beings involved (8.6.36).
    • Naturally, this commune is Shelly's ex-bae's idea. She's basically seeing if Lyman thinks that it's a good idea for her to move there.
    • Lyman doesn't—obviously. He launches into one of his patented rants against the hippiefied masses and their soft-minded ideas.
    • Finally, Shelly admits that she's been seeing her boy for several weeks.
    • At some point, Shelly adjusts her bosom in a way that arouses our dear Lyman. He quickly covers up the, ahem, evidence of this arousal and hopes that Shelly didn't notice.
    • Despite everything, Shelly has really enjoyed working with Lyman. She even wonders if she'd still be able to work for him occasionally after moving away, but she knows that it'd be impossible.
    • Finally, Shelly kisses Lyman on the head and goes about her day.
  • Part 8, Chapter 7

    • Lyman starts off this chapter with a mysterious disclaimer: though he knows what happened next, he's less sure about the how and why of the situation.
    • This problem is caused by the fact that Susan only writes one letter between July and September 1890. Strangely, this letter is merely "one sentence" and is sent from Chicago (8.7.2).
    • There are a few newspaper articles that fill in the gaps of the story. The first is a small article from July 22 talking about how Susan and Betsy are heading east to bring Ollie back to school.
    • We get more vague talk from Lyman. He keeps dropping hints at something big, like when he casually states that Susan is "grieving" at the time (8.7.9).
    • Ollie wouldn't come back home for another 10 years. Wow. Even more strangely, Susan didn't let him spend any time with family in Milton and instead hauled him straight off to school when they arrived.
    • But, why? All we get for answers are more vague statements: Lyman believes that Ollie (his dad) blamed Susan for "the catastrophes" that had hit the family over the past several days (8.7.12).
    • Susan isn't planning on going back west, either: she tells Augusta in a letter that she will be moving to New York to focus on her career as a writer and artist.
    • But, Susan doesn't. In fact, that single letter we mentioned previously was actually her apology to Augusta for skipping out on her promise.
    • Finally, Lyman reveals the truth that he's been avoiding all chapter—young Agnes drowned in the Susan Canal on July 7. That's awful.
    • The next revelation is even bigger—Frank Sargent shot himself on July 10, two days after Agnes' funeral. That's pretty awful, too. But, what does it all mean?
    • Lyman lays it out for us: he suspects that Susan was unable to keep herself from Frank after their little Independence Day tryst, leading the couple to meet secretly along the canal.
    • But, Susan needed some cover: some "camouflage" (8.7.47). That's where Agnes comes in. Lyman suspects that Susan brought Agnes along as an alibi but lost track of the girl during her time with Frank.
    • The newspaper article states that Susan started screaming when Agnes went missing and was met by Oliver and Ollie. Tellingly, the article also mentions that Frank assisted in the rescue efforts.
    • Wow. Although it seems far-fetched, Lyman's logic makes a lot of sense.
    • Lyman shifts gears to tell us a story about "the business of the rose garden" (8.7.52). Doesn't seem relevant, but we'll allow it.
    • About 40 years ago, Lyman was helping his granddad in the rose garden when his Aunt Betsy came by to say hello. She stopped to admire the flowers but then asked her father if he remembered ripping up all of the rosebushes from their house in the Mesa decades earlier.
    • Lyman pictures the scene: Susan's looking out the window as Oliver pulls up every single one of the roses he had spent so much effort planting.
    • In his heart, Lyman feels like his grandfather was too uncompromising. He suspects that ol' granddad felt the same way but was too ashamed to admit it.
  • Part 9, Chapter 1

    Part IX: The Zodiac Cottage

    • Lyman "didn't hear any car" arrive, so he's surprised to see her walking up his driveway (9.1.1). Huh? Her? What is going on?
    • Lyman is sitting down watching the Giants game on television with Ed, Ada, Shelly, and Al Sutton. They all look at this lady (whoever she is) with skeptical eyes.
    • Finally, it comes out—this lady is Ellen, Lyman's ex-wife. Lyman makes the introductions with varying degrees of politeness.
    • Suddenly, Lyman's leg begins shaking like crazy. Embarrassed, he covers it up with a newspaper and wishes that everyone would stop staring at him.
    • The Giants lose the game. Before long, everyone heads out, leaving this formerly married couple together to stew in some good old-fashioned awkwardness.
    • Ellen gets down to brass tacks—she thinks it's foolish for Lyman to consider staying at the Zodiac Cottage through the winter, especially because there will be no one to "look after [him]" (9.1.57).
    • Lyman grumbles, but Ellen asks him to show her around the house. Thinking that it will get rid of her more quickly, he shows her the first floor and the courtyard where he does his daily laps.
    • Eager to impress, Lyman decides to do his daily dozen right then and there. He can only do about six before stopping—he even collapses at the finish line, but he's caught by Ellen.
    • Afterward, Ellen and Lyman walk to the rose garden. Lyman shows Ellen a hybrid rose his grandfather created in honor of Agnes, although he doesn't believe that his grandmother ever knew about it.
    • Next up is the vegetable garden. Nothing much interesting here, unless you're a diehard carrot fanboy.
    • Finally, Lyman and Ellen return to the house. Ellen isn't done yet, however: she wants to go upstairs, where Lyman works.
    • Lyman and Ellen end up in Lyman's study. Ellen looks up at the large portrait of Susan Ward on the wall and admires it for a bit.
    • Lyman and Ellen leave the room. Exasperated, Lyman calls Ada—she was supposed to be here to prepare dinner a while ago.
    • Shelly answers. Apparently, Ada had a "seizure," so Ed is rushing her to the hospital as they speak (9.1.130). Shelly promises that she'll come by later when everything's hammered out.
    • Ellen is irritated by this—she can certainly make Lyman a sandwich. She even pours him a drink while he's waiting (so much for going cold turkey, huh?).
    • Lyman tells Ellen about his book, which he wants to title The Angle of Repose. You don't say. He also states the book's mission rather simply: to determine why Susan "wasn't happy" (9.1.155).
    • In Lyman's eyes, Susan was never truly happy after Agnes' and Frank's deaths, a situation that was made worse by the complete loss of trust she faced from the family afterward.
    • Lyman also explains the title. He wants to find out how his grandparents settled into the restful state in which he knew them as a child (which is pretty much the textbook definition of an angle of repose).
    • The worst part (to Lyman) is that his grandfather never forgave his grandmother. In fact, Lyman "never saw them kiss" once in all the time that he lived with them as a child (9.1.192).
    • Lyman is now in tears. He wheels into the bathroom and slams the door.
    • A bit later, Lyman hears voices in the hallway: it's Shelly and Ellen. They're debating which one of them should give Lyman his bath tonight.
    • Shelly must have won because she bursts in and locks the door behind her. Lyman is freaking out at this point: the text suddenly starts describing him in the third person.
    • In an attempt to calm him down, Shelly...takes off her top. For real. Well, that's one way to approach things.
    • Suddenly, Lyman "felt the stump of his leg begin to swell and lift [...] filling with a pleasurable warmth" before he begins peeing into his catheter (9.1.229, 231). Disgusted by this sight, Shelly storms out of the room.
    • (We gotta be honest, guys—we have no clue what's happening right now.)
    • With that, Ellen enters the bathroom and looks at Lyman sympathetically. She tells Lyman that he shouldn't have let Shelly do that—that's her job.
    • Oh—it's a dream. You could have told us that like 20 pages ago, buddy.
    • Despite his confusing dream, Lyman immediately starts thinking about his grandma.
    • Before, Lyman had assumed that his grandmother's "angle of repose" was settled the day that Agnes died, and from then on, she and her husband were on completely different paths.
    • But now, Lyman realizes that Susan and Oliver must have found some sort of peace with each other in the end. After all, Susan died only "two months" after Oliver passed away (9.1.237).
    • So, that gives Lyman hope that he, too, can make peace with Ellen. It even makes him wonder if he could be the one to actually extend that olive branch, to call her and begin the healing process.