Study Guide

Angle of Repose Part 9, Chapter 1

By Wallace Stegner

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.