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The Big Rock Candy Mountain (Contemporary American Fiction)

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Bo Mason, his wife, Elsa, and their two boys live a transient life of poverty and despair. Drifting from town to town and from state to state, the violent, ruthless Bo seeks out his fortune—in the hotel business, in new farmland, and, eventually, in illegal rum-running through the treacherous back roads of the American Northwest. Stegner portrays more than thirty years in Bo Mason, his wife, Elsa, and their two boys live a transient life of poverty and despair. Drifting from town to town and from state to state, the violent, ruthless Bo seeks out his fortune—in the hotel business, in new farmland, and, eventually, in illegal rum-running through the treacherous back roads of the American Northwest. Stegner portrays more than thirty years in the life of the Mason family in this masterful, harrwoing saga of people trying to survive during the lean years of the early twentieth century.


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Bo Mason, his wife, Elsa, and their two boys live a transient life of poverty and despair. Drifting from town to town and from state to state, the violent, ruthless Bo seeks out his fortune—in the hotel business, in new farmland, and, eventually, in illegal rum-running through the treacherous back roads of the American Northwest. Stegner portrays more than thirty years in Bo Mason, his wife, Elsa, and their two boys live a transient life of poverty and despair. Drifting from town to town and from state to state, the violent, ruthless Bo seeks out his fortune—in the hotel business, in new farmland, and, eventually, in illegal rum-running through the treacherous back roads of the American Northwest. Stegner portrays more than thirty years in the life of the Mason family in this masterful, harrwoing saga of people trying to survive during the lean years of the early twentieth century.

30 review for The Big Rock Candy Mountain (Contemporary American Fiction)

  1. 5 out of 5

    Steve

    Towards the end of this epic story, Bruce Mason, who was a first year law student barely 20 years old (having skipped a few grades), began keeping a journal. It was not a log of his activities or thoughts on the issues of the day, but rather an attempt to understand a complicated family dynamic with a flawed father driving it. He said the journal was like author’s notes -- another of the many parallels between Bruce and Stegner himself. Both had a saintly mother, a combustible father, an athleti Towards the end of this epic story, Bruce Mason, who was a first year law student barely 20 years old (having skipped a few grades), began keeping a journal. It was not a log of his activities or thoughts on the issues of the day, but rather an attempt to understand a complicated family dynamic with a flawed father driving it. He said the journal was like author’s notes -- another of the many parallels between Bruce and Stegner himself. Both had a saintly mother, a combustible father, an athletic older brother who unlike Wally and Bruce did not skip grades, and a nomadic upbringing that included time in Saskatchewan, Montana, and Salt Lake City. Here’s Bruce, though, reflecting on how impossible it is to truly understand any such thing: "I suppose," he wrote, "that the understanding of any person is an exercise in genealogy. A man is not a static organism to be taken apart and analyzed and classified. A man is movement, motion, a continuum. There is no beginning to him. He runs through his ancestors, and the only beginning is the primal beginning of the single cell in the slime." Nevertheless, the book did track back to figure out what it could. In the process, Stegner said, he managed to offload some deep-seeded resentments. I’m reluctant to go into any detail, because Stegner should be given the chance to reveal important plot points his own way. Let me just say he’s good at it. Each vignette draws you in completely, magnified and made grand by his sense of time and place. And every character profile has human dimensions that only a genuinely talented, observant writer can convey. OK then. [Taking a deep breath before attempting the tightrope walk that keeps me from over-sharing while at the same time justifies why the book deserves all 5 stars.] One genealogical precursor in this story was the father’s father who lost an arm and any sense of humor he might have had as a prisoner in the Civil War. Another was the mother’s Norwegian heritage and farm upbringing that made her hearty and resilient. Each member of the immediate family gets POV treatment which helps the long story move at a more spritely pace. Bo, the dad, was testosterone personified. He was broad-shouldered, good with his hands, quick with his temper, energetic, charming (at times), respected by ruffians, good with guns, and for the most part loving towards his wife Elsa. He chased dreams of the big score, the easy money, or in metaphorical terms, the Big Rock Candy Mountain that’s surely just past the next rise. (BTW, the book shares its apt title with a song that was featured in the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou. “And the bulldogs all have rubber teeth” being my favorite line.) Bo pushed boundaries, was confident (or maybe “delusional” is the better word), and liked signaling “big man” status when he could. In one case he paid more for the diamond stud in his tie than I do for 3 years-worth of clothes and accessories even before adjusting for inflation. (Hmm… I’m not sure if that says more about him or me.) Elsa was more practical, but rarely held sway. She was also, in contrast, consistently kind. The only knock against her is that she might have done more to protect the little birds in her nest. The older brother, Chet, was in many ways like his father. If Bo could be called a man’s man, Chet could be labelled a boy’s boy – physical, a ring-leader, adventurous, and at least half-full of mischief. Bruce was more of a mama’s boy. He did share one trait with his father, though: an intense willfulness. When the two were together, Bo’s manly standards and own intransigence made harmony as scarce as big money. Bruce’s reflections later in the book were powerful and wise (overlapping 99% with Stegner’s own). Father-son relationships often teeter lopsidedly between pride and disappointment depending on how the two generations reflect on each other and how reconciled they are to their differences. Stegner once said this was a book about motion. The family certainly moved a lot, with that B.R.C.M. always beckoning. There was movement of a different sort, too. Young Bruce, who was wise beyond his years, noted that people weren’t fixed points so much as lines, always changing a little from what they were “like the wiggly line on a machine used to measure earthquake shocks. […a man] moved along a line dictated by his heritage and his environment, but he was subject to every sort of variation within the narrow limits of his capabilities.” With Stegner drawing the plots, every wiggle was worth noting. The book was published in 1943 when Stegner was 34 years old, teaching at Harvard. The three other Stegner novels I read were written decades later. It was interesting to me to sample the young Wallace Stegner before the line of his life brought him to celebrated works like Angle of Repose and Crossing to Safety. In younger years he seemed to write with more raw power, hurt, and emotion. As he aged he became more refined and maybe more quotable. He was never less than great, though – marked by mature insights even as a young man and brimming with intelligence throughout. I’m giving this book 4.5 stars and rounding up to 5. The small demerit comes from descriptive passages that I sometimes felt could have been shorter. I also think that as Bruce/Wallace exorcised demons, there wasn’t enough elapsed time or self-awareness yet to say what would fill the void. A quote by Bruce near the end, though, hints at how both the protagonist and the writer thought the blanks should be filled. Perhaps it took several generations to make a man, perhaps it took several combinations and re-creations of his mother's gentleness and resilience, his father's enormous energy and appetite for the new, a subtle blending of masculine and feminine, selfish and selfless, stubborn and yielding, before a proper man could be fashioned. Knowing what I know of the writer to come, he iterated his way to that goal quite well, surpassing those candy mountains along the way.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Jeanette (Ms. Feisty)

    Reading Wallace Stegner is like having a really great first boyfriend. He ruins you for anyone who comes later. Sometimes he's so good that you don't even want anyone after him. The Big Rock Candy Mountain is the book that should have won Stegner the Pulitzer Prize long before he wrote Angle of Repose. I've read commentary indicating that Big Rock Candy Mountain is largely autobiographical. If that is true, my heart aches for the little boy that was Wallace Stegner. Perhaps those early painful ex Reading Wallace Stegner is like having a really great first boyfriend. He ruins you for anyone who comes later. Sometimes he's so good that you don't even want anyone after him. The Big Rock Candy Mountain is the book that should have won Stegner the Pulitzer Prize long before he wrote Angle of Repose. I've read commentary indicating that Big Rock Candy Mountain is largely autobiographical. If that is true, my heart aches for the little boy that was Wallace Stegner. Perhaps those early painful experiences were what made him the soulful and understanding author we love. Stegner is the conductor for the music of my heart. Maybe someday I'll figure out how to write reviews that adequately convey what he does for me.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Elyse Walters

    Review to follow --(maybe if I ever recover) Emotionally -- I was all over the place. I 'never' thought I'd cry over Bo Mason -- (still not sure I did) -- but there was a scene towards the end -- (Bo was in that scene) -- when I broke down....and for a second felt sad for him. I think when you read a book like this -- 600+ dense pages 'filled' with sorrows (paperback -small print to boot) -- eventually -- a reader will break down. Yes? Or am I crazy? Three emotions stand out the most -- intertwin Review to follow --(maybe if I ever recover) Emotionally -- I was all over the place. I 'never' thought I'd cry over Bo Mason -- (still not sure I did) -- but there was a scene towards the end -- (Bo was in that scene) -- when I broke down....and for a second felt sad for him. I think when you read a book like this -- 600+ dense pages 'filled' with sorrows (paperback -small print to boot) -- eventually -- a reader will break down. Yes? Or am I crazy? Three emotions stand out the most -- intertwine throughout this novel: 1 -anger 2 -'aw' 3 -sadness I'm spent - I'll be back to write a better (hopefully) review later - unless I just throw up my hands - Many thanks to Lorna -- (she's willing to have a buddy discussion with me). I'm left with questions - I feel a need to talk about this book --discuss with it with other readers. I have several questions and comments about specific parts in this novel. Writing a review at the moment just feels too exhausting -- forgive me -- I'm really 'spent'!!! However, I'm sooooooo glad I read it. (and wanting to say 'hello' to my friends here before I scat like a cat) A few tidbits about "The Big Rock Candy Mountain" ....Long? Hell yes! ....Dense? Hell yes? ....Slow and poetic at times? Hell yes? ....Incredible prose - lots to highlight? YES YES and YES!! ....Tumultuous, blistering, and turbo-accelerating at times? YES....'emotionally' --Hell yes --'at times' Worth reading? Yes yes yes!!! One of my all time favorite books. (close) Quick question to those who have read this: "Do other readers think Bo was Bipolar?" My heart aches -- the characters were soooooo sooooo sooooo real!!! I LOVE Elsa and Bruce!!! P.S. I thought I knew Stegner pretty well through other books I read (or read about Stegner) -- but I learned a lot more from this book. Ha, ha (I need some comic-relief) >> ....Stegner did 'not' like gophers

  4. 4 out of 5

    Cathrine ☯️

    4.5★ If you’ve read Stegner, a man I consider one of America’s national treasures, you will already know his writings are dense. The reader cannot be hurried through. Patience and thoughtfulness are required to appreciate the journey he will take you on, no instant gratification to be found. Unless you love prose for its own sake. This one is divided into ten sections and that’s how I consumed it for a week and a half. Years ago while reading Angle of Repose and Crossing to Safety I recall gettin 4.5★ If you’ve read Stegner, a man I consider one of America’s national treasures, you will already know his writings are dense. The reader cannot be hurried through. Patience and thoughtfulness are required to appreciate the journey he will take you on, no instant gratification to be found. Unless you love prose for its own sake. This one is divided into ten sections and that’s how I consumed it for a week and a half. Years ago while reading Angle of Repose and Crossing to Safety I recall getting fatigued somewhere between the halfway and three quarters mark, responding like a child in the back seat exclaiming “Are we almost there?" That happened with this one also. Similar to driving through the great American Southwest, across the California desert, and then over the mountains and through all the traffic, but then you see it, the gorgeous coastline. You see where’s he’s been taking you, and all those sections come together and you’re so glad for the effort spent because you get it. You also know that nothing could be subtracted. All the contrast between the red rock and miles of hot dusty roads to the blues and greens of the Pacific. It was worth it, the journey getting there and the destination. You are satiated and satisfied and in love with the stories he weaves and want to sign on for another road trip. You also feel completely lacking in the skills necessary to adequately review or sing the praises of his work. This was Stegner’s first full length novel. I’m glad I read it as a mature woman. He talks about it in the very beginning of the documentary film to which I have included a link. Who better than he to give the reader a sense of what to expect. Perhaps I don’t cherish it as much as the two mentioned above but it has made me gratefully hunger for more, and more I shall have. The closing pages compel me to bump the stars up to five. One of my favorite passages: https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/7650... Extras: The author titled this book, as well as a later one Where the Bluebird Sings to the Lemonade Springs from lines in a song also used in the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou? The Big Rock Candy Mountain by Harry ‘Haywire' McClintock 1928. This version is visually entertaining as well. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jqowm... Wallace Stegner: A Writer’s Life A one hour documentary the author participated in shortly before his death. Narrated by Robert Redford https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZGCC6... Biography http://wallacestegner.org/bio.html

  5. 5 out of 5

    Will Byrnes

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. The story of Bo Mason and Else. He is a talented dreamer with a large dose of wanderlust, who works hard at his dreams, but seems to always see them drift away. She is an escapee from an unhappy home who is smitten with Bo as an 18-year-old. Marriage ensues, children, and hardship. This is a great American saga, covering the main characters from adolescence to old age. It gives us a look at western North America (US and Canada) at the end of the 19th century into the mid 20th. There are times wh The story of Bo Mason and Else. He is a talented dreamer with a large dose of wanderlust, who works hard at his dreams, but seems to always see them drift away. She is an escapee from an unhappy home who is smitten with Bo as an 18-year-old. Marriage ensues, children, and hardship. This is a great American saga, covering the main characters from adolescence to old age. It gives us a look at western North America (US and Canada) at the end of the 19th century into the mid 20th. There are times when the language is so beautiful that it called to mind Thomas Hardy, and I wept through the final chapter. The Mason children figure large in this story as well. Bo stands in for America in a way. He has so much to offer, yet, instead of building in a slow and steady, is ever torn by un unquenchable need for the new. He is also always on the lookout for the big score, and ultimately it never comes. Else loves Bo, despite his inability to settle down, despite his harshness, his immaturity. Bo’s vibrance, however flawed, stands out. Else must sacrifice her desire for a settled life again and again as Bo is drawn ever onward. She stands in for the more domestic piece of America. Their sons diverge as well. Chet carries his father’s athleticism, but also his stubbornness and inability to admit error. It ultimately takes him away from his dreams. Perhaps the most American is Bruce, the mama’s boy who ultimately strikes off on his own to make a truly better life.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Lorna

    The Big Rock Candy Mountain by Wallace Stegner is said to be the closest to an autobiographical account of his own childhood. This is the emotionally gripping tale of fictional Bo and Elsa Mason and their two sons, Chester and Bruce, with striking similarities to the childhood of Stegner. The Mason family was continually uprooted as Bo Mason found himself involved in one scheme after another, often requiring the family to move frequently as Bo Mason was often chasing the next big financial schem The Big Rock Candy Mountain by Wallace Stegner is said to be the closest to an autobiographical account of his own childhood. This is the emotionally gripping tale of fictional Bo and Elsa Mason and their two sons, Chester and Bruce, with striking similarities to the childhood of Stegner. The Mason family was continually uprooted as Bo Mason found himself involved in one scheme after another, often requiring the family to move frequently as Bo Mason was often chasing the next big financial scheme, as were many others in the movement westward in the first part of the twentieth century. Bo Mason, oftentimes prone to violence, tried his hand at farming, running a hotel, and ultimately rum-running during Prohibition. Elsa did everything in her power to make each place a home as this family searched for their piece of The Big Rock Candy Mountain. This at times was such a heartbreaking story of this family but there were beautiful moments as well as their struggles sometimes seemed insurmountable in this rich and unforgettable classic. "There was somewhere, if you knew where to find it, some place where money could be made like drawing water from a well, some Big Rock Candy Mountain where life was effortless and rich and unrestricted and full of adventure and action, where something could be had for nothing." "If one subscribed to the idea of home at all, one would insist on an attic for the family history to hide in. His mother had felt so all her life. She wanted to be part of something, an essential atom in a street, a town, a state; she would have loved to get herself expressed in all the pleasant, secure details of a deeply-lived-in house." "Was he going home or just another place? It wasn't clear. Yet he felt good settling his bare arm gingerly on the hot door and opening his mouth to sing. He had a notion where home would turn out to be, for himself as for his father--over the next range, on the Big Rock Candy Mountain, that place of impossible loveliness that had pulled the whole nation westward. . . ."

  7. 5 out of 5

    Corinne Edwards

    I feel spent, having finished this book. I took more time reading it than any book in recent memory - and it wasn't only its 563 pages that made it a long read. I had to read with a pen at the ready, so many ideas and images and thoughts I wanted to highlight. The Big Rock Candy Mountain is a western book. A character study. A journey. But not a there-and-back-again book like Bilbo Baggins wrote. It's a go and go again kind of journey, searching ever further afield for that one thing that will ma I feel spent, having finished this book. I took more time reading it than any book in recent memory - and it wasn't only its 563 pages that made it a long read. I had to read with a pen at the ready, so many ideas and images and thoughts I wanted to highlight. The Big Rock Candy Mountain is a western book. A character study. A journey. But not a there-and-back-again book like Bilbo Baggins wrote. It's a go and go again kind of journey, searching ever further afield for that one thing that will make you happy, always finding that it just slipped out of your fingers. Bo Mason is that dreamer - a schemer who will gamble on a sure thing, following whatever lead will drop him on top of that Big Rock Candy Mountain the soonest. He'll farm, work the railroad, bootleg or run a "blind pig" - whatever it takes to get money in his pocket the fastest. And to Elsa, the daughter of Norwegian immigrants, Bo's zest for life and skills with a shotgun lure her into a love that will test all the strength she's got as they live their lives during the hard years of the early 20th century. The road their life takes, the unbelievable anguish and sacrifice, the horrible choices and bum deals and the eking out of an existence, the packing up and starting over - you would think that it would be so depressing that you'd want to just chuck the book out the window. But Wallace Stegner is a literary genius because he ties up this cheerless and heartbreaking story with a writing style and way with words that is so amazing you can't help but be floored by the beauty of it. How is that possible? The turn of phrase and poignantly expressed truths stopped me time and again. And as we read the story from different points of view, we see the strengths in the characters, usually deeply hidden under their glaring weaknesses. All except Elsa, whose strengths and weaknesses are both transparent - she is one of the most intriguing and sympathetic characters I've read. I also loved that this book took me to the Utah of long ago, an emerging place, a western wasteland of outcasts and misfits that was slowly turning into something grand and worthwhile - the side of Utah that the Mormons of my ancestry probably wished didn't exist and certainly wouldn't have appreciated. The language of some characters was really rough and there were scenes of serious ugliness. But this book made a time and place and cross-section of people so real to me. I can't even use the words "grand" or "epic" or "sweeping" because it felt too intimate for those adjectives, too painful - like reading someone's diary and finally understanding how hard their life had been. And despite the language, despite the ugliness, the scope of this book and the way it made me feel and the sense it gave me of a time now forgotten - a time when the great wandering of early Americans was coming to a close - those things make me want to give Big Rock Candy Mountain an award.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Margitte

    I can in all honesty not say that this was one of my heartfelt, best books ever. But can say convincingly that it was an excellent autbiographical novel. Perhaps there was a scattering of way too much words all over the tale. Too long. Too wordy. So many novels have been written about the American west and the deeper meaning behind the search for get-quick-rich-schemes, the big rock candy mountain, over the next rise, something for nothing, an improved world, and/or get away from man's own natur I can in all honesty not say that this was one of my heartfelt, best books ever. But can say convincingly that it was an excellent autbiographical novel. Perhaps there was a scattering of way too much words all over the tale. Too long. Too wordy. So many novels have been written about the American west and the deeper meaning behind the search for get-quick-rich-schemes, the big rock candy mountain, over the next rise, something for nothing, an improved world, and/or get away from man's own nature. It often left the dreams shattered but the dreamers determined the longer they tried to find the pot of gold at the end of an ever-elusive rainbow the further it moved out west. I have great respect for this well-known author for pouring out the good and bad memories into this personal tale of his life as part of his drifter-family in the early twentieth century. They followed the old Scandinavian tracts through the north west. It must have been very painful to relate and share his memories, to throw open his hurt, anger, frustrations, heartbreak and embarrassment to a public he doesn't even know if he could trust. However, I do believe that it brought the cliché-d closure for himself and made him proud of the choices he made to overcome his personal family history. Well, he had so much to be proud of in the end. If the bad was genetic, the good was in there as well. He just had to fill up the spaces between it. How difficult was it to flesh out the characters: their intimate lives, their thoughts, so that he could ensure more understanding from himself and his readers of his grandparents' and parents' decisions ? The frontier the family was on, was a belated one in the 1914-20s in Saskatchewan. They were almost literary reproducing the Kansas frontier of the 1860s. Boredom never entered the author's Huckleburry Finn world as a child (his own description of his world). His mother kept his brother and himself cultured as far as their constanct moving allowed. His father was a folklore character with an explosive temper. His brother, who died young, was on his way to become a successful athlete, if it wasn't for his father's constant bootlegging to keep food on the table. A whiff of scandal surrounded the family as a result of his father's contstant new schemes with shady and dubious partners. In an interview Wallace Stegner said that they were deprived of civilisation in many respects, and he had to try and catch up with it his entire life. He has been in an 'acronysm' all his life as a result. He always felt like a nineteen century character caught in the twentieth century. Wallace Stegner's roots were deeply established in the American west. This novel is about their experiences in painful detail. He created realistic characters to establish a believable, trustworthy tale and leave the reader with a sense of awe, but also empathy, for those drifters who shaped modern America in so many ways. This book is indeed about The Big Rock Candy Mountain, and those people who took it on. It is also about loyalty in a family and how destructive and intricate it becomes. Hopeful, but sad, book. For me at least. (Totally beside the point!! I noticed that Ken Kessey was one of Wallace Stegner's students in Creative Writing. One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest is certainly one of the most iconic American novels ever written, and for sure the best, shameful, example of how an author was screwed out of his words big time by his publishers who robbed him of his rights to royalties. While the book is still in reprint for probably a millionth time, selling even more millions of copies, Ken Kessey did not share in the bounty it generated. In fact, he hardly survived financially from other means of income he had to find, until he passed away.) I am thus so grateful for Wallace Stegner who made such a big difference to other people's lives after everything he had gone through in his own life. This book is worth a read. It nestles as much in the historical fiction genre as being an autobiographical novel at the same time.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Diane Barnes

    "He had a notion where home would turn out to be, for himself as for his father--over the next range, on the Big Rock Candy Mountain, that place of impossible loveliness that had pulled the whole nation westward, the place where the fat land sweated up wealth and the heavens dropped lemonade..." Imagine taking the painful childhood you remember and turning it into a work of art such as this. Using a good, patient, gentle mother and a violent, ruthless father determined to bully the world into gi "He had a notion where home would turn out to be, for himself as for his father--over the next range, on the Big Rock Candy Mountain, that place of impossible loveliness that had pulled the whole nation westward, the place where the fat land sweated up wealth and the heavens dropped lemonade..." Imagine taking the painful childhood you remember and turning it into a work of art such as this. Using a good, patient, gentle mother and a violent, ruthless father determined to bully the world into giving him what he wanted, to show the value of the American spirit. Writing about an older brother with so much promise, who could never quite get it together. Relating your own growth as a whining, sensitive, undersized boy who had to search inside himself for strength and endurance. And showing us 30 years in the life of a family in the first half of the 20th century in the beautiful prose that foreshadowed his later works. The book jacket says this is semi-autobiographical, but an internet search convinced me that it followed his own young life pretty accurately. How do you take all that raw material and mold it into something like this? This was published in 1943, when Stegner was 34 years old. Though not his first novel, it was the first successful one. Yes, it's dense, and yes, it's too long, though I'm not sure what he could have left out. With Stegner, you never know where you're going til you get there, but he makes the journey memorable. This is a family saga that is worth the effort it takes with both your time and emotional output.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Sara

    In the Big Rock Candy Mountains, There's a land that's fair and bright, Where the handouts grow on bushes And you sleep out every night Where the boxcars all are empty And the sun shines every day On the birds and the bees And the cigarette trees The lemonade springs Where the bluebird sings In the Big Rock Candy Mountains Bo Mason is a dreamer. He isn’t lazy, or unskilled, or really even criminal, but he wants everything and he wants it now, and nothing is ever enough. He wears out the people around him, In the Big Rock Candy Mountains, There's a land that's fair and bright, Where the handouts grow on bushes And you sleep out every night Where the boxcars all are empty And the sun shines every day On the birds and the bees And the cigarette trees The lemonade springs Where the bluebird sings In the Big Rock Candy Mountains Bo Mason is a dreamer. He isn’t lazy, or unskilled, or really even criminal, but he wants everything and he wants it now, and nothing is ever enough. He wears out the people around him, his wife and his children, with his inability to settle down and just live in peace. He flirts with danger and justifies anything he does that he believes will help him hit the big time. It would be easy to hate Bo Mason, especially when it is so easy to respect and love his wife, the beleaguered Elsa. But there is much to admire at the heart of Bo and what you feel along with the disgust and dislike is kind of grudging pity and understanding. He is like a trapped animal and his cruelty rises from a place he cannot control and mostly fails to recognize. The book poses interesting questions. Are we destined to be a certain kind of person, a person who is seeded in us during childhood? Can a drifter, who yearns for new horizons and new challenges, force himself to settle down? Should a man bury all his dreams once he assumes the responsibility of family? Can we forget being abused in our childhood and overcome our urge to withdraw or retaliate? When we have built a life on running from adversity, can we learn to stay and fight through the bad times? Can we ever, in fact, overcome who we are? And, does love conquer anything, let alone conquer all? What is your husband a slave to, Mrs. Mason? To himself, Mrs. Webb, to himself. To his notion that he has to make a pile, be a big shot, have a hundred thousand dollars in negotiable securities in his safe deposit box, drive a Cadillac car...He doesn’t know, he wouldn’t know, what to do with money when he has it. Would he ever think of going to the theater, or reading a good book, or taking a trip somewhere just for the trip? That is the saddest thing about Bo Mason, to me, he is wishing for all the wrong things when all the right things might be right at his elbow. I couldn’t help thinking that I have met far too many men like him in my lifetime, people who think everything can be solved with money. But, money beyond a certain level of need, cannot really purchase happiness; only things. Love is a strange thing, it will make us hold on to someone when we know we ought to let go. It makes us turn down the respectable and kind suitor, who would adore us, take care of us, and love our children, and opt for the wild, unpredictable, sometimes cruel man, who excites our heart and soul. Love shows itself in different ways, and sometimes even though felt is hard to express. Hate is its mirror, so closely aligned with it that I dare say you can only truly hate someone that you truly love. For is it not love that leaves you vulnerable to the hurts and stings that you would never accept from someone to whom you were indifferent? If I had any complaint about this novel it would be that it might be shortened without losing its impact. It is autobiographical, I understand, and it is easy to believe, because it feels very personal in places. There are no black and white characters here, all are shades of grey, and if we are fair isn’t that primarily the truth--the truly evil are rare and saints are virtually non-existent.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Laysee

    There was no candy on Wallace Stegner's Big Rock Candy Mountain. But there was a rock that set heavily on my heart as I read and the rock got bigger and bigger. At 576 pages, with 10 parts that spanned the 1890s to 1930s, this is a long novel which made the trek up this mountain quite painful and at times almost unbearable. Here's why. (view spoiler)[ The Big Rock Candy Mountain is a story about a man's relentless pursuit of quick riches and success and the destruction it brought upon himself an There was no candy on Wallace Stegner's Big Rock Candy Mountain. But there was a rock that set heavily on my heart as I read and the rock got bigger and bigger. At 576 pages, with 10 parts that spanned the 1890s to 1930s, this is a long novel which made the trek up this mountain quite painful and at times almost unbearable. Here's why. (view spoiler)[ The Big Rock Candy Mountain is a story about a man's relentless pursuit of quick riches and success and the destruction it brought upon himself and his family. The Big Rock Candy Mountain was "that place of impossible loveliness" that Bo Mason, one of the key characters, coveted to his peril. I wanted this story to end as I was becoming more and more disgusted with Bo and traumatized by his uncontrollable rage and the emotional damage he had caused to his wife and sons. Yet, when it finally ended, I felt an inexplicable sense of loss. I gained a fresh respect for Stegner and his ability to convey his profound understanding of the complexity of human relationships. There is no straight forward hatred for a man's senseless and selfish acts, is there? Mingled with it are intricate layers of other feelings laced with episodic memories of happiness that contravene the attendant anger, hardness and rejection. The year was 1905. Elsa Norgaard, age 18, left home to live with her uncle when her widowed father married her best friend. In North Dakota she fell in love with Bo (Harry) Mason who was then an owner of an illegal saloon, married him and had two sons, Chet and Bruce. The marriage was strained by poverty and Bo’s resentment of the restraints of responsibility. He had a compulsive need to frequently uproot the family in an elusive bid to secure easy money. Add to all this Bo’s history of having been a victim of childhood abuse. Elsa and her sons walked on egg shells, powerless in the face of Bo’s irascibility and maniacal aggression. The hardest passages to read were those (e.g., the highly anticipated Fourth of July picnic that did not happen) where Bruce, a highly anxious child, was subject to his father’s rage. The reader is dragged along with the Mason family on an endless circuit that spanned Oregon, Saskatchewan, Montana, Salt Lake City, California, and Reno to name a few cities, wherever Bo hatched his dream of finding gold. In Bruce’s recollection, “We never lived in any house in the United States for more than a year at a time. Since I was born, we’ve lived in two nations, ten states, fifty different houses.” These moves were often precipitated by getting on the wrong side of the law that led to unimaginable shame and anxiety. The most heart wrenching consequence of one such relocation was young Bruce having to leave behind a crippled colt he had nursed and to discover just as the family was driving off that Socks had been skinned for his hide. Bo did not have the capacity to understand as Elsa did that “You had to stay in a place to make it a home. A home had to be lived in every day, every month, every year for a long time, till it was worn like an old shoe and fitted the comfortable curvatures of your life.” The novel explored the theme of home in a moving way. It was poignant that the frenetic candy chase did not add an ounce of happiness or peace to the Mason family life. In Elsa's words: "I just want us to have a good, solid place in the world where nobody can shame us with anything." The price Bo paid for his wild dream was way too high. (hide spoiler)] In my view, some of the most powerful writing is in Parts VII to X and bound up in Bruce’s reflections, which I believe belong to Stegner. If you feel like giving up, as I did after Part II, keep reading. It will be worth it. I was moved by Stegner's gracious evaluation of what seemed a wasted life. It took a magnanimous heart to embrace a man's ambitions and violence and to recognize that there was love, no matter how flawed it was and how imperfectly it was expressed.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Sue

    My first Wallace Stegner novel! I am very pleased to have that bridge crossed (all puns intended). It's a story of family,searching for home, escape and return, survival against adversity, the American dream gone wrong, and ultimately, forgiveness. Told by multiple narrators, the four members of the Mason family, the story covers some thirty plus years in the life of Elsa, the man she comes to love and marry, Bo, and their two sons, Chet and Bruce. During those years, there is love, humor, anguis My first Wallace Stegner novel! I am very pleased to have that bridge crossed (all puns intended). It's a story of family,searching for home, escape and return, survival against adversity, the American dream gone wrong, and ultimately, forgiveness. Told by multiple narrators, the four members of the Mason family, the story covers some thirty plus years in the life of Elsa, the man she comes to love and marry, Bo, and their two sons, Chet and Bruce. During those years, there is love, humor, anguish, tears, apprehension, love again, frequent moving, and sometimes hate, as Bo constantly reassesses what will make his dreams of success come true. The main problem, that slowly becomes obvious to Elsa and the reader, but never to Bo, is that his dreams are more like fairy tales with a nasty edge. One of the most felt lacks or losses for all but Bo was the lack of a place to call home. They lived in one place for 5 years before the urge for another frontier struck again. Other than that, a few weeks, maybe a year. As Bruce says late in the novel.., "Well, where is home? he said. It isn't where your family comes from and it isn't where you were born, unless you have been lucky enough to live in one place all your life. Home is where you hang your hat. [He had never owned a hat] Or home is where you spend your childhood, the good years when waking every morning was an excitement...Is home that,or is it the place where the people you love live, or the place where you have buried your dead, or the place where you want to be buried yourself?" p459 There is so much here written so wonderfully, things I found I could relate to and will be contemplating for a while. For most of us, home and family are central to our lives. For the Mason family, home was a curse. Highly recommended.

  13. 5 out of 5

    aPriL does feral sometimes

    'The Big Rock Candy Mountain' vividly describes how the fantasy concept 'The American Dream' actually played out in the early 20th century in reality, and even up through today. Only technology and medical care separates the events from that period and our current time. Even though 'The Big Rock Candy Mountain' is set in 1900's America in the vast and empty western and central land areas of North America and Canada, many of the same social issues described in the novel still persist into the 21s 'The Big Rock Candy Mountain' vividly describes how the fantasy concept 'The American Dream' actually played out in the early 20th century in reality, and even up through today. Only technology and medical care separates the events from that period and our current time. Even though 'The Big Rock Candy Mountain' is set in 1900's America in the vast and empty western and central land areas of North America and Canada, many of the same social issues described in the novel still persist into the 21st century. Stegner delights the reader reminiscing about the plains lifestyle in the wild untamed spaces with his writing, but the book is also a microscopic examination of an America shaped by socially created illusions and delusions of what can be accomplished with hard work, optimism and ambition. I feel safe in thinking the author Wallace Stegner believed child abuse has a HUGE impact on human development, too. Unfortunately, the 1900's was a period in which most lower-class parents believed beating, and I DO mean beating, children was necessary for moral growth. Whipping with real whips, straps and sticks, kicks, slaps, throwing children into walls and floors, all-day starving, killing pets, enforced adult-level labor and constant verbal abuse was common to lower-class social mores. One of the main characters, Elsa, the mother of the family profiled in the book, was the kindest and gentlest mother one could wish to have. But while she protested and spoke against her husband Bo's displaced rage and, if you ask me, undiagnosed ADHD, she simply gave up to her sexual passion for Bo. She allowed Bo the complete authority to rule the family despite his vicious cruelties and poor parenting. (view spoiler)[She actually had the choice of a safer father for her children and a more moderate life, which she passes by; in fact, the opportunity for moderation and safety came up three times, but she chose Bo over and over. (hide spoiler)] Her kids paid the price far more than she did. Bo, the father, wasn't evil, but he definitely was a product of his environment, and his lack of education and damaged thinking. Torture does not often result in children who grow up able to forgive, forget or love against the tide of remembered self-centered and selfish parenting, especially if neglect and unjust punishments were inflicted primarily to relieve a parent's inner demons. I am mystified why some people believe now, and many more believed widely throughout many societies in past centuries, that intense long beatings and abuse of young toddlers and children will instill the 'good' obedience and religious morality needed to become successful in life and at death a heavenly reward. 'Good' habits placed in a child's mind through the agency of severe pain and punishment, barely survivable deprivations, and intentional life-threatening shunning certainly brings a child to the point of thinking about dying. Causing fear of death constantly, directing violence hate spite and revenge at the small helpless child, denying affection and threatening the loss of parental approval and love - these child-rearing methods have never created a well-adjusted adult. Many many many rich people have never had to live a moral life to stay rich or to be acceptable in society or be successful in business, educated or not. Many wealthy folks have complete confidence they are going to heaven, as well. Extreme punishments and beatings have had no direct effect on whether they keep or lose their wealth. Market conditions, inherited wealth and the hiring of a good finance manager works best to be rich, not any earned good marks for morality in life. Yet many people, the majority of whom are very poor or middle-class, believe intense unjust punitive beatings and humiliations will create a magnificently cowed silent and obedient 'normal' human being destined for wealth, generosity, and humility, plus heaven as a side benefit. Wealthy people have always gone to college, even if they did not study very hard. Only as the decades have passed have scholarships become available to poor people and minorities, and attendance costs to poor people have come down. I believe education is helpful at reducing class differences, as I think so does the author. The main narrator (there are many narrators in this novel of changing viewpoints), Bruce Mason, goes to college, which enables and empowers him to tell the story about his awful father, Bo Mason, and the destruction of his family with unblinking literary clarity. As the 19th century became the 20th, while the upper-classes were reading about new discoveries in psychology, social customs in other countries, science, electro-magnetism, food safety, radio, telephones, health care, etc., the lower classes were lucky if they attended school through the 8th grade. Most poor people certainly had no access to libraries or were able to afford books. Lower-class men, in my opinion, barely had more intelligence and knowledge than the animals they had to hunt for sustenance, yet they were expected to work for 'The American Dream' as if it were attainable by simply working long hours of common hard labor and torturing their children to toughen them into the 'respectability' of psychopathic manhood. Many boys raised with harsh brutality become neurotic adult tyrants, eager to pass on the torch of humiliation, shame and PTSD down to their children, while drinking heavily to drown the pain of their internal lack of self-worth or ability to feel anything except generalized depression and misdirected rage, along with a generalized sense of failure. It was made abundantly clear in the novel how these impoverished woods and farm characters casually toss and cage broken-legged or hurt wild animals without a single thought to ending or reducing their pain in the book. I understand how the casual nonthinking about the handling of creatures one must kill to eat day after day must occur, or that animals must be destroyed to save food crops. But in the dysfunctional Mason family the treatment of these trapped wild creatures reflect the treatment the Mason children Bruce and Chet experience. While all classes sometimes indulge in the unnecessary torture and humiliation of their children in the name of morality, poor people do it in far greater numbers and far more openly with more social acceptance because of religious beliefs or customary family traditions throughout generations (i.e., my father beat me and his father beat my father and his father beat great-grandfather, and so on, to teach them obedience and decency). In the novel, medical care is shockingly primitive or not available to the characters. Doctors were rare and expensive for all poor people until recently, but always available for the rich for millennia. A poor person who severely injured themselves in past centuries had no recourse for recovery except for home remedies. Loss of a job due to sickness or injury meant starvation and homelessness almost immediately. 'The American Dream' is absolutely out of reach for the poor who were injured, maimed and disabled. The lower classes internalize the Western cultural lies about equality and yet at the same time have no educational tools to intellectually dissect or think about the messages given to them. Level playing field? No. Not. I hated and despised almost all of the men characters in this book, all of them being ignorant and savage to women and children. The novel was difficult for me to finish reading. It also is a book written in 1938, so women have only three roles, all supporting: Mother Madonnas, shallow social martinets or greedy prostitutes. But everyone, male and female, is shown to be a product of place, environment, education, poverty and bodily damage. There is NO equal ground of opportunity, despite their simplified faith in their ability for advancement. They are unknowingly trapped by their ignorance and lack of self-examination. Is 'The American Dream' real? We Americans are taught that America is a country that is basically made up of philosophical and material plenty, shiny and valuable as pure gold, attainable through sacrifice, sweat equity and desperate risks if we are not lucky enough to born rich. Even if we believe in the truth of 'The American Dream' initially, we often need to hang on to our belief by means which, sadly, slowly diminish with experience - religion, customs, repeated 'truisms' and platitudes. That we are undeniably more comfortable than many other countries because of our technological and political infrastructure (indoor plumbing, electricity, food, healthcare, democratic institutions) hides the impoverished suffering of millions of Americans because of institutionally ignorance and lack of equal opportunities. Two sets of legal systems exist - one enforced against you if you are poor, but another one that doesn't bother you if you are rich. The truth about America is not as simple as its national image is generally understood. For many of us, the Statue of Liberty is actually a false god who we've gussied up and on whom we've projected hollow grand themes and wishful dreams. America really is a great country, but there is not as much social equality or pure geographical beauty as it is touted loudly throughout the world. There are huge beautiful wild spaces almost empty of human life as well as vast despoiled wastelands abandoned after everything of value has been mined or destroyed. There are walled and guarded mansions within exclusive manufactured parks built by the wealthy, as well as rotting hovels built on poisoned land not much different from contaminated garbage pits, where the poor must live. There are people who work from dawn to dusk at back-breaking labor for all of their lives who end up in cheap coffins, leaving behind mountains of debt, as well as multiple generations of rich families who have not ever worked a day in their lives for centuries or needed college beyond art appreciation degrees. Yet, we speak loudly and often of a national equality between all classes, which in fact does not exist, although the majority of us believe it does. What we do have is a much greater possibility of moving between classes of society not available elsewhere because of many more chances to make or marry into money. We have fewer social taboos that restrict class change, although there may be pockets of social disapproval. A person of Jewish faith can marry a Muslim without either one losing their jobs or house and property or much loss of face. We have opportunities for a basic 'free' education up to age 18. We have a secular government. We have a generally comfortable baseline lifestyle based on socialistic government programs and a widespread technological infrastructure built by private enterprise through government-sponsored activities. (Another thing most Americans ignore or don't know is how much of America's 'greatness' is due to political socialism, not capitalism. In fact, most Americans believe it's the other way around.) Most of us obey most laws and pay taxes without enforcement. The various military entities are forbidden access to private property or organs of governance, and are under the command of secular, non-military elected officials, which in turn are under the threat of losing power through the votes of ordinary citizens and a powerful judiciary, who in turn are also elected or appointed by elected officials. We have a comparatively free media, although they work under many government and corporate restrictions and the threat of damaging and expensive lawsuits by ordinary people. Competition excites and energizes, and the government is under strict rules to promote competition whether by business, sports or private individuals. These things are actually what make America great, in my opinion. It's messy, loud and error-prone, and frequently we take one step backwards for every two steps forward. But so far, it is a system which seems to work best in the Western World. But there are social problems undermining the gains. In reality, an alcoholic or addicted wealthy individual who has never worked a single day or attempted college may live without experiencing much social condemnation or money worries or any assumption of religious damnation or guilt. A similar alcoholic or addicted poor individual who has never kept a job or had the money or education to go to college because of bad public schools and having had poor and abusive parents may live under a torrent of open judgmental religious and social shaming, punishment and blame, which sometimes undermines all chance of personal success. What about our infamously shallow cultural roots, and its contribution to our American character? What is the American character? As a people, we Americans prefer easy short sound-bites over thoughtful analyses. We disdain educated 'pointy-heads', philosophical studies, history classes of any and every subject. We want quick fixes, no matter how temporary or insubstantial. We value living in the moment with spontaneous impulsivity over years of planning and maintenance. We often choose charismatic attention-seeking selfish self-centered strongmen for leaders who use their power to divide us while enriching themselves instead of choosing inclusive and empathic educated thinkers who want to raise all boats (only the democratic governmental checks-and-balances our country relies on save us). We look for anesthetizing time-wasting distractions instead of working towards goals. The 'loner-styling individuality' most of us seek at some point (usually as a teen or young adult) partially because of our educational system and partially because of our national traditions, condemns us to a general lifelong sense of soul-eating loneliness, with a lack of trust in each other and often leads to self-destruction through substance abuse and mental illness. We like to think the aptitudes for hard labor, courageous risk-taking, native intelligence and moral backbones are in our American DNA from birth. We are taught in school along with reading and writing that all we need to do is push forward and work hard, grooming our god-given inner talents and ambitions, and in time we all have an equal chance at earning billions of dollars. We are told we are all equal as human beings, starting with the same chances of success as everyone else around us. The male author, Wallace Stegner, who wrote this powerful and horrible novel of naked truth, used 'The American Dream' theme to rub the reader's face in our delusional social beliefs about our supposed equality and our actually defective child-rearing. He makes clear the Dream is often an unattainable one for the poor, the sick and the emotionally damaged. Many of us live in a terrible miasma of shame without understanding the true source of it - patriarchal traditions created by social manipulation and maladapted instincts. Depending on luck and being born into a wealthy or educated family alone for financial well-being is not acceptable, and yet here we STILL are, facing the same demons that the author wrote of in this amazing great novel. If you can stand it, read it to the end. It definitely is as much one of the Great American Novels as is Moby-Dick; or, The Whale and 'The Great Gatsby

  14. 4 out of 5

    Greg Brozeit

    I hesitate to write much since I am incapable of conveying how deeply this tragically intricate novel moved me. I mostly tend to read American and German literature from the first half of the 20th century. If that strikes a chord with you, I think, like me, you’ll love this book as I did, from the first word to the last. Stegner’s tale is an American saga, not about gods and heroes but, much like Hamsun’s Growth of the Soil and Laxness’s Independent People, about common folk who pioneer and strug I hesitate to write much since I am incapable of conveying how deeply this tragically intricate novel moved me. I mostly tend to read American and German literature from the first half of the 20th century. If that strikes a chord with you, I think, like me, you’ll love this book as I did, from the first word to the last. Stegner’s tale is an American saga, not about gods and heroes but, much like Hamsun’s Growth of the Soil and Laxness’s Independent People, about common folk who pioneer and struggle to make something out of nothing in a brutal, hostile world. Much like those novels, this story provides deep insight about how collective individualities build national character and identity. I am reminded of the classic Doonesbury cartoon when Mike embarks on a motorcycle tour of the country as Zonker asks him to “Call me when you find America.” Reading this epic would have been a good starting point for that journey. Set in the first third of the 20th century, we follow the Mason family as they struggle to prosper and consistently fail to set roots of stability. Bo Mason drives and draws along his wife and two sons through sporadic, momentary cycles of booms and prolonged and brutal busts. Their nomadic journey takes us throughout the West during historical episodes that include frontier settlement, the Klondike gold rush, the Spanish flu of 1918, prohibition, and the advent of legal gambling. The beauty and depth of Stegner’s descriptive writing is all-consuming and overwhelming. You can feel the musty grit of the North Dakota winds; you can smell meadow flowers of a lazy Montana summer day; you can feel Bo’s car struggle through a vicious blizzard; you can hear the guns go off to celebrate the end of World War I; you can smell the stench of a rotting horse carcass; you can see the dust floating in the sunbeam coming into a stuffy room; everything is a visceral experience. Most importantly, these characters are as completely human and real as any about whom I’ve ever read. Bo Mason “was a man who was born disliking the present and believing in the future.” His compelling drive to search for that mythical Big Rock Candy Mountain of contentment is constantly stymied by his violent frustrations, bluster, fears, insecurities, and dreams. Elsa Norgaard Mason is the force of stability, a loving mother of two boys, who might well be one of the most sympathetic characters in American literature, whose “qualities…would get you saintliness, but never greatness.” And as we see her boys Chet and Bruce grow up from infancy to childhood, we constantly strain to wish them good, happy lives.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Andrew

    What Stegner might call a big three-master, this family saga quasi-autobiographically traces the Mason family from their ignominious Midwestern roots through a series of get-rich-quick blunders that takes them from Oregon to Saskatchewan to Montana to Salt Lake to Reno. Narrated objectively, the book's emotional compass is the family's youngest son, Stegner's version of himself, and the catharsis of this book is what makes its best moments remarkably fine and what overloads the circuitry in the What Stegner might call a big three-master, this family saga quasi-autobiographically traces the Mason family from their ignominious Midwestern roots through a series of get-rich-quick blunders that takes them from Oregon to Saskatchewan to Montana to Salt Lake to Reno. Narrated objectively, the book's emotional compass is the family's youngest son, Stegner's version of himself, and the catharsis of this book is what makes its best moments remarkably fine and what overloads the circuitry in the later passages, marring what is otherwise a masterpiece. One of Joyce's architectural strokes of genius was to displace the emotional core of Ulysses away from Stephen, and hence, himself, onto Bloom. Stegner takes an opposite path and grinds the heart of his fictive stand-in until the prose begins to come undone, much as An Incredible Work of Staggering Genius is at its best when emotion is channeled through cleverness. Still, Stegner is one of very few Western writers who had both the luck to witness the transformation of an agrarian frontier society into the modern mess of vacuous dead spaces and exploited wilderness that it now is, and the capacities to write about it in an enduring way. Stegner's work does not sag into a diminutive genre the way most Western writing does. Like Steinbeck's California, or Joyce's Ireland, the West in Stegner functions as a foil for the Universal, not as the object of a sentimental and defective paean. As he explains in more detail in his non-fiction work, Stegner's childhood experience of extreme poverty in the go-for-broke villages, derelict hotels, isolated farms and logging camps of pre-New Deal America taught him that the Individual, that Goliath of Right Coast American Mythology, cannot survive the brutality of the Western landscape. The plot of Stegner's book, and in many ways the core of his thinking, is that rather than a society of neatly spaced Individuals striving towards transcendence, the unforgiving actuality of the West (its poverty, its harsh weather, and most of all, its aridity) forces people to cling to one another in order to survive, in a delicate balance between dependence and destruction. As he explains in his essays on the West, it is the West's aridity (which in Stegner's thinking is, as is geology, a metaphor of vast proportions that inevitably is a metaphor for itself) that causes one of the West's most visible features: bunch grass, the clumps of meager, yellow grass that dot the desolate range. In the West even the grass has to huddle together to survive.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Tara Rock

    This book has been in my bookcase since 1978 and I need to thank the Goodreads friend who recently brought this title up on my feed which motivated me to indulge myself with a great story. Mr. Stegner writes about his own life and the American Dream set in the early 1900's. There is magic here, and a few tears as well. This book has been in my bookcase since 1978 and I need to thank the Goodreads friend who recently brought this title up on my feed which motivated me to indulge myself with a great story. Mr. Stegner writes about his own life and the American Dream set in the early 1900's. There is magic here, and a few tears as well.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Doug H

    I enjoyed this book a lot and was going to write one of those long rambling reviews that truly good books deserve (you know: the kind of review that throws in 17 million samples of the author's great writing and 17 million of your own thoughts about life and literature and that make you sound like a completely egotistical pseudo intellectual ass). But, try as I might, that's not happening today. Lucky you! I'll just say this instead: The character development and the writing are fantastic and ce I enjoyed this book a lot and was going to write one of those long rambling reviews that truly good books deserve (you know: the kind of review that throws in 17 million samples of the author's great writing and 17 million of your own thoughts about life and literature and that make you sound like a completely egotistical pseudo intellectual ass). But, try as I might, that's not happening today. Lucky you! I'll just say this instead: The character development and the writing are fantastic and certain scenes are forever etched in my brain. (Actually, maybe "seared in my brain" is a better description.) I'll never forget the scenes with Bo trying to return to his family in the middle of an intense blizzard and raging flu epidemic. Wow, that was tense and exciting stuff! On the other hand, I would love to forget a certain child abuse scene that comes fairly early on. It almost ruined the book for me. Not because of the horror of it, but because it bordered on melodrama in the way it was presented. Other scenes I balked at include one where Bo is having a two-way conversation with a mannequin and Bruce is having one with a closet full of his mother's clothes. I don't have an issue with Magical Realism in general, but I thought those scenes jarred with the style of the rest of the writing. One other little quip I have is about the length of it. I enjoyed the episodic way it was written, but some of the episodes felt superfluous. E.g., that episode with Bo and the mannequin: WHY? I don't know the melody for the old hobo tune that shares the same title as this novel, so "Hard Candy Christmas" by Dolly Parton was floating around in the back of my brain while I read it. It suited the mood, anyhow.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Ms.pegasus

    The myth of American exceptionalism is converted into high tragedy in the hands of Wallace Stegner. His subject is not a mere single character but two generations of a single family. His time frame expands from the bracket of Frederick Jackson Turner's frontier historiography to a contemplation of memory passed across generations and constantly re-shaped by time. The novel begins in 1905. Oklahoma, Arizona and New Mexico were still territories. Large parts of the West had achieved statehood only The myth of American exceptionalism is converted into high tragedy in the hands of Wallace Stegner. His subject is not a mere single character but two generations of a single family. His time frame expands from the bracket of Frederick Jackson Turner's frontier historiography to a contemplation of memory passed across generations and constantly re-shaped by time. The novel begins in 1905. Oklahoma, Arizona and New Mexico were still territories. Large parts of the West had achieved statehood only within the past two decades. There was still an idea of the frontier, and it offered very different visions of freedom to two of the characters. These were visions rooted in escape rather than reinvention. Elsa Norgaard had seen her own future laid out in the early death of her mother. The frontier was her out – from an overly sheltered life, from the shackles of a patriarchal Norwegian family, from the harsh predictability of life on a Minnesota farm that would wear down and kill a woman. At 19 she is thrilled to travel to North Dakota: town life under the looser guardianship of an uncle and novel unconventional friends. The world is suddenly bigger. “[S]he felt she could see a long way, even into the future, and she felt how the world rolled under her. After she had watched the summer plains for a long time, and the smarting under her lids had passed, a meadowlark sang sharp and pure from a fencepost, and she began to think that the future into which this new world of her choosing moved with her could hardly be unfriendly, could hardly be anything but good.” (p.25) Bo Mason, a few years older and far more worldly, has been chasing a vision ever since he left his abusive father and overcrowded family in Illinois at the age of 14. His imagination can carry him no farther than contempt for authority and “an ambition to get somewhere where the cream hadn't been skimmed off, get in on the ground floor and make his pile.” (p.47) However, he is able to pursue this ambition with a frightening destructive vitality. Bo and Elsa's marriage will be a symbiosis of weaknesses paradoxically strengthened by mutual disappointment. They will have two children, Chet and Bruce. Time passes. Stegner's narrative is chronological but disjointed. The viewpoint of each family member is represented. He tells a series of stories that add up to loose friendships, abrupt departures, emotional fragility, cautious restraint, and broken promises. The stories are both horrific and poignant, tinged by the knowledge that happiness will forever be just out of reach. In the end Bruce will reconfigure these stories, now transformed into memories, searching for an answer that will define his own existence and explain his family's losses. He searches for an anchor. Where is home? Why here and not there? If he could answer that question, would he have a better grasp of who he is? Neither Bo nor Elsa, but with parts of them mixed together in what proportions and with what components? “He had a notion where home would turn out to be for himself as for his father – over the next range, on the Big Rock Candy Mountain, that place of impossible loveliness that had pulled the whole nation westward, the place where the fat land sweated up wealth and the heavens dropped lemonade....” (p.523) That landscape of past dreams, however, would always be coupled to human longings. Let go. Look back. The choices that brought him here seemed inevitable. Choice after choice handed down from generation to generation. But look forward. The future is still unknowable. The landscape gathers its momentous power from its indifference. We've lived with this family from start to finish, learned the deepest thoughts and self-deceptions of each of its members. Even we can't sum up their lives with a simple explanation. Like Bruce, we can only agree: “A man is not a static organism to be taken apart and analyzed and classified. A man is movement, motion a continuum. There is no beginning to him.” (p.495). Stegner is a powerful writer. His strength is not in flashy writingg but in patient control of detail. Increemental desccriptions create a mood of foreboding. Yet, the climax of each incident is still unexpected, and delineated so graphically the incident forms part of a chain of significant memories. I already knew that much of the material in this book was autobiographical. That information significantly influenced my experience of this book. It reinforced my response to these characters.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Joy D

    Published in 1943, this classic family saga tells the story of the Masons – Harry (called Bo), Elsa, Chet, and Bruce – over the course of approximately thirty years. It begins in 1905, when Elsa leaves her home in Minnesota and travels to North Dakota, where she meets Bo. They fall in love, marry, and two sons are born. The family frequently moves in search of Bo’s latest get-rich-quick scheme. Bo’s schemes sometimes rely on illegal activities, such as rumrunning during Prohibition, much to the Published in 1943, this classic family saga tells the story of the Masons – Harry (called Bo), Elsa, Chet, and Bruce – over the course of approximately thirty years. It begins in 1905, when Elsa leaves her home in Minnesota and travels to North Dakota, where she meets Bo. They fall in love, marry, and two sons are born. The family frequently moves in search of Bo’s latest get-rich-quick scheme. Bo’s schemes sometimes rely on illegal activities, such as rumrunning during Prohibition, much to the dismay of the rest of the family. It is traditional in structure and sweeping in scope, covering a wide swath of the Northwestern US and Canada – California, Nevada, Oregon, Montana, Saskatchewan, Idaho, Utah, and the Dakotas. Stegner writes of mountains, prairies, droughts, floods, blizzards, and other natural elements faced by people living on the frontier. The plot is episodic in nature. The prose is stellar, immersing the reader into a time and place. There is no single protagonist. The plot is driven forward by Bo’s restless wanderings. Each family member is featured in several chapters. The characters are convincing. I am sure many of us are familiar with a person like Bo, who constantly seeks the golden opportunity that lies just over the next hill. Bo is charismatic and temperamental. His temper flares when things do not go his way, which leads to conflicts with Chet and Bruce. In contrast, Elsa yearns for stability, a place to call home, and the peaceful routines of family life. She could easily live without riches. Elsa suffers in silence and tries her best to provide a stable, loving environment for her sons. Bo pursues his dreams and does not consider the impact on his family. His actions lead his family members to both love and loathe him. He seems born out of sync with frontier expansion and has just missed the biggest boom times. Bo’s time (and the plot) includes the WWI, 1918 Influenza, Prohibition, and the Great Depression. “Harry Mason was a child and a man. Whatever he did, any time, he was a completely masculine being…In an earlier time, under other circumstances, he might have become something the nation would have elected to honor, but he would have been no different. He would always have been an undeveloped human being, an immature social animal, and the further the nation goes the less room there is for that kind of man.” This book requires a significant commitment of time – it is long and densely written. It is a book I am likely to remember for a long time.

  20. 5 out of 5

    TBV

    On the Big Rock Candy Mountain Where the cops have wooden legs, And the handouts grow on bushes, And the hens lay soft-boiled eggs, Where the bulldogs all have rubber teeth And the cinder dicks are blind— I’m a-gonna go Where there ain’t no snow, Where the rain don’t fall And the wind don’t blow On the Big Rock Candy Mountain. This is a novel about chasing rainbows.. Big, handsome Bo (Harry) Mason has many talents. But Bo is bored, restless, driven to find the gold at the end of the rainbow. “T On the Big Rock Candy Mountain Where the cops have wooden legs, And the handouts grow on bushes, And the hens lay soft-boiled eggs, Where the bulldogs all have rubber teeth And the cinder dicks are blind— I’m a-gonna go Where there ain’t no snow, Where the rain don’t fall And the wind don’t blow On the Big Rock Candy Mountain. This is a novel about chasing rainbows.. Big, handsome Bo (Harry) Mason has many talents. But Bo is bored, restless, driven to find the gold at the end of the rainbow. “There was somewhere, if you knew where to find it, some place where money could be made like drawing water from a well, some Big Rock Candy Mountain where life was effortless and rich and unrestricted and full of adventure and action, where something could be had for nothing.” The next venture is always going to be the one to make his family rich, happy and solve all their problems. But what is the impact on his family? Bo can be funny, and trot out rhymes, but when he is bored or feels thwarted he has a quick and often violent temper. It doesn’t take much for Bo to once again have itchy feet: “Three more men had come back with Bo from the drugstore, and all afternoon others kept dropping in to have a beer and listen to stories of hundreds of miles of wild timberland, hundreds of thousands of caribou, hundreds of millions of salmon in suicidal dashes up the rivers; of woods full of bear and deer and otter and fox and wolverine and mink; of fruit salads on every tree in berry time. You didn’t need to work for a living. You picked it off the bushes, netted it out of the river, shot it out of the woods, panned it out of the gravel in your front yard.” Unfortunately not all of Bo’s ventures are on the right side of the Law… ### It is also a novel about the concept of home… Where is home? What is home? “Home was a curious thing, like happiness. You never knew you had had it until it was gone.” Elsa, Bo’s wife, wants nothing more than to have a home for her family. A house where they can settle, put down roots, befriend neighbours and watch their sons Chet and Bruce play and grow. As a young adult Bruce ponders the concept of home: “If one subscribed to the idea of home at all, one would insist on an attic for the family history to hide in. His mother had felt so all her life. She wanted to be part of something, an essential atom in a street, a town, a state; she would have loved to get herself expressed in all the pleasant, secure details of a deeply-lived-in house. She was cut out to be a wife and mother as few women were. Given half a chance, she would have done well at it.” “I wish, he said, that I were going home to a place where all the associations of twenty-two years were collected together. I wish I could go out in the back yard and see the mounded ruins of caves I dug when I was eight. I wish the basement was full of my worn-out ball gloves and tennis rackets. I wish there was a family album with pictures of us all at every possible age and in every possible activity. I wish I knew the smell of the ground around that summer cottage on Tahoe, and had a picture in my mind of the doorway my mother will come through to meet me when I drive up, and the bedroom I’ll unload my suitcases and books and typewriter in. I wish the wrens were building under the porch eaves, and that I had known those same wrens for ten years.” ### Wallace Stegner certainly knows how to convey the longings, aspirations and frustrations of the Mason Family. His characterisation is magnificent. He also knows how to ramp up the tension so that one holds one’s breath until he effortlessly allows the tension to evaporate like mist in the morning sun. Several incidents including one that involved a cougar and another about a horse had me just about biting my nails. There were other incidents too. In a simple sentence he conveys a world of meaning: “She went about getting lunch feeling as if a bed were unmade in her mind.” “There had been a wind during the night, and all the loneliness of the world had swept up out of the southwest.” “She ain’t going into no nest without a lot of feathers in it.” “The boy stood on one foot, then the other, time pouring like a flood of uncatchable silver dollars through his hands.” “Those things had weight in the memory; those were what was left when you boiled down six years in your mind.” “To leave on a sunny day would be inappropriate; a retreat should be made in weather as miserable as the act itself” “He lifted his face and yelled with the pressure of happiness inside him” And Mr Stegner is also capable of long, lyrical descriptions. Wallace Stegner draws our attention to another act of folly: “A few miles up the road toward the summit was the monument to the Donner Party, symbol of all the agony in the service of dubious causes, archetype of the American saga of rainbow-chasing, dream and denouement immortalized in cobble-rock and granite, its pioneer Woman and unconsciously ironic portrait of endurance and grief.” But not only is there much beauty in the novel; there is also much to offend. The story takes place in the early nineteen hundreds, and attitudes and the vernacular of that time are expressed. There are racist slurs. There are also children running around with loaded guns. ### There is so much to quote that I simply cannot resists including a few more extracts: “People, he had said, were always being looked at as points, and they ought to be looked at as lines. There weren’t any points, it was false to assume that a person ever was anything. He was always becoming something, always changing, always continuous and moving, like the wiggly line on a machine used to measure earthquake shocks. He was always what he was in the beginning, but never quite exactly what he was; he moved along a line dictated by his heritage and his environment, but he was subject to every sort of variation within the narrow limits of his capabilities.” [Bruce] ““When I have put that down, I have perhaps sketched a character, I have done the sort of thing a novelist probably does before writing his book. But I have not even scratched the surface of Harry Mason. Everything I have listed is subject to contradiction by other characteristics, open to qualification in degree and kind; everything has a history that goes back and back toward a vanishing point.” [Elsa about Bo] “For a moment his brain whirled. Memory was a trap, a pit, a labyrinth. It tricked you into looking backward, and you saw yourself in another avatar, smaller and more narrow-visioned but richer in the life of the senses, and in that incarnation too you were looking back. You met yourself in your past, and the recognition was a strong quick shock, like a dive into cold water.”

  21. 5 out of 5

    Marcus

    Why couldn't Stegner be decent and write a book with an antagonist toward whom I could detachedly direct my righteous indignation? Instead, he wrote the Big Rock Candy Mountain with Bo, who is not one of Cormac McCarthy's depraved evil doers. Jarringly, and despite what you might believe otherwise, Bo is me, only in different circumstances. When Bo lashes out at his children or disappoints his wife or goes after another pipe dream that will have him raking in the dollars, it is me. How could he Why couldn't Stegner be decent and write a book with an antagonist toward whom I could detachedly direct my righteous indignation? Instead, he wrote the Big Rock Candy Mountain with Bo, who is not one of Cormac McCarthy's depraved evil doers. Jarringly, and despite what you might believe otherwise, Bo is me, only in different circumstances. When Bo lashes out at his children or disappoints his wife or goes after another pipe dream that will have him raking in the dollars, it is me. How could he be anyone else? His emotions are mine, only amplified. His intentions, his thoughts and his dreams are also mine and yet when I look at him, at myself, it is with loathing. I want to look away, to deny that he exists and that anyone could possibly write my story, could put me in a different time, (though in the same place,  much of the novel is set in Seattle) and reveal my actions so rawly to anyone who cares to read them. It is embarrassing and it hurt to turn the pages, but I couldn't stop. I had to know what I would do next. Surely I would redeem myself? Surely my heart-of-gold would be enough to save the ones I love? Could Stegner really know my feelings and failings better than even I do? He did. He wrote them truthfully and tragically and I am better for having endured reading them. The Big Rock Candy Mountain is a course correction wrapped in a brilliantly written novel that gripped me like few books ever have before.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Todd Martin

    The Big Rock Candy Mountain is a story of a troubled family making its way through the early part of the 20th century as told from the alternating points of view of its members and in the 3rd person. The plot (as far as it goes) is driven by the father, an ambitious dreamer with anger management issues who seeks to “make his pile” through one get-rich scheme or another. Here’s the basic format of the book’s plot: Dad comes up with a far-fetched get-rich scheme. The scheme falls through. Dad gets The Big Rock Candy Mountain is a story of a troubled family making its way through the early part of the 20th century as told from the alternating points of view of its members and in the 3rd person. The plot (as far as it goes) is driven by the father, an ambitious dreamer with anger management issues who seeks to “make his pile” through one get-rich scheme or another. Here’s the basic format of the book’s plot: Dad comes up with a far-fetched get-rich scheme. The scheme falls through. Dad gets angry and tragedy and sorrow ensue. Repeat and repeat again … then again, and again and again. Stegner is a compelling writer, even poetic at times, but the book feels as if it was written by someone stricken with an untreatable form of obsessive compulsive disorder who is compelled by some inner fixation to tell the same story over and over again … in minute detail and with minor variations. A new plan is formed and hope for the family rises, only to be dashed on the rocks of despair. Each time tragedy strikes, Stegner wallows in the family’s misery, probing the depths of unhappiness with a relish that borders on pathological. Like a jeweler turning a precious stone beneath his glass, each corner of pain, suffering and grief is explored in painstaking detail as if he feared that some small bit of anguish be overlooked. In the end, the book is simply too long and reads like self-indulgent tragedy-porn written by a maudlin and manipulative sentimentalist. Someone please call a whaa…mbulance.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Scott

    This is Stegner's attempt to understand his parents and their making of his identity. He beautifully conceals who the real hero of the tale is until the last pages: the somewhat effeminate, philosophical son, who sees both his mother and his father for what they were, but doesn't ultimately begrudge them their sins. After all, they live on in his own history. He could only condemn them as much as he could condemn himself. The brilliant and intimate storytelling of Stegner's later novels (the not This is Stegner's attempt to understand his parents and their making of his identity. He beautifully conceals who the real hero of the tale is until the last pages: the somewhat effeminate, philosophical son, who sees both his mother and his father for what they were, but doesn't ultimately begrudge them their sins. After all, they live on in his own history. He could only condemn them as much as he could condemn himself. The brilliant and intimate storytelling of Stegner's later novels (the notables being Crossing to Safety and Angle of Repose) is not quite developed in The Big Rock Candy Mountain. However, it is here that author executes his most incisive diagnosis of the rapturous splendor--and the treacherous curse--of the American West.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Julie

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Like his contemporaries James Agee and John Steinbeck, and his literary predecessor, Willa Cather, Wallace Stegner captures a voice that is uniquely American and imbues it with a spirit of tenderness and sorrow, hope and survival. The Big Rock Candy Mountain was published when Stegner was only 34. He was already a prolific writer, but this autobiographical novel brought him the first glimmer of literary fame that would grow to a shining light and earn him the moniker "Dean of Western writers." It Like his contemporaries James Agee and John Steinbeck, and his literary predecessor, Willa Cather, Wallace Stegner captures a voice that is uniquely American and imbues it with a spirit of tenderness and sorrow, hope and survival. The Big Rock Candy Mountain was published when Stegner was only 34. He was already a prolific writer, but this autobiographical novel brought him the first glimmer of literary fame that would grow to a shining light and earn him the moniker "Dean of Western writers." It is a story of epic tragedy that spans the early years of the 20th century through the mid 1930’s. The central theme is grand: it reveals the ending of the dream that was the American West. By the ‘teens, those vast open spaces were nearly filled and the once-wild frontiers had borders. The myths of oil and mineral wealth, the flu pandemic, and economic uncertainty busted the most promising boom towns; the unforgiving terrain and cruel climate crippled farming families and sent them to the cities of Salt Lake, Seattle, and Los Angeles to seek work and shelter. To take this grand theme from epic story to intimate portrait, Stegner leads us into the heart of a small family desperately seeking the American dream. Bo Mason, his wife Elsa and their young sons Chet and Bruce, personify all that is most hopeful, vital, desperate and tragic about that dream. Like a firefly caught in a jar, Bo Mason flings himself wildly from one get-rich-quick-scheme to the next, dragging his family from shack to tent, homestead to tenement through the Dakotas to Idaho; from Saskatchewan to Seattle; from Salt Lake City to Lake Tahoe. Bo works tirelessly at his ill-conceived schemes; he is earnest and determined. He is also cruel, quick-tempered, selfish and vain. His wife and sons spin nearly helplessly around the vortex of his moods. Stegner, however, never regards Elsa as a victim. He gives her a strong will, clear choices, opportunities to change her fate. Yet each time, she chooses Bo. Her sons, driven by desire to escape from their father’s oppressive shadow and shameful reputation, make choices they hope lead them far from the family’s quixotic journeys. Stegner allows each character a voice, moving seamlessly from husband, wife, son, brother, so that you have a full view of this family from every perspective and develop affection for each, despite their deep, frustrating flaws. The Big Rock Candy Mountain is loosely based on Stegner's childhood and adolescence rumbling around the American West and the Canadian plains with his parents and older brother. The character of Bruce, a sensitive child coddled and protected by his mother, and often the target of his father’s wrath, is Stegner’s literary other. The losses Bruce suffers as a child and a young man mirror Stegner’s own and the latter part of the novel takes on a very personal and reflective tone, as Bruce becomes the sole survivor of the Mason family tragedy. Clearly, this is a heavy read, but it is beautiful and gripping. The tragedies are rendered without melodrama; nearly all are the result of human misjudgment and folly, not some Jobian set of heavenly-sent trials. My heart broke time and again, but the beauty of Stegner’s prose sustained and uplifted it even during the darkest moments.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Wayne Barrett

    This story covers 30 years during the early part of the 20th century and tells of a families struggles through those years. There were moments while following the Mason's; Bo, Elsa, and their sons, Chet and Bruce, that I was sure I would only give this book 3 stars because there were areas in the tale that bored me. But as I neared the finish I knew this would be a solid 4. The characters in this story are so true to life, so defined, that you can't help but become engrossed in their journey. Th This story covers 30 years during the early part of the 20th century and tells of a families struggles through those years. There were moments while following the Mason's; Bo, Elsa, and their sons, Chet and Bruce, that I was sure I would only give this book 3 stars because there were areas in the tale that bored me. But as I neared the finish I knew this would be a solid 4. The characters in this story are so true to life, so defined, that you can't help but become engrossed in their journey. This is one of those stories that will take hold of your emotions and at times fill you with anger and disgust and at others, with a melancholy poignancy or just downright heartbreak. I can see why this is a classic, and I am actually surprised that I don't see it more widely read on my contact list. Admittedly, there is not a lot in the synopsis that would seem to draw a reader to the book, but in my opinion, this is a gem.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Heidi

    What happens when a beautiful, gentle woman, unused to physical hardship, marries a stubborn, nomadic adventurer with an itch, a daredevil determined to realize the American dream and “make his pile” any way he can? We sure find out. This is Stegner’s second novel, epic in length and scope compared with his first book, a novella called Remembering Laughter, and in it he teaches himself what works and what doesn’t. What a gift for a reader to be able to watch that learning unfold. The dialogue amo What happens when a beautiful, gentle woman, unused to physical hardship, marries a stubborn, nomadic adventurer with an itch, a daredevil determined to realize the American dream and “make his pile” any way he can? We sure find out. This is Stegner’s second novel, epic in length and scope compared with his first book, a novella called Remembering Laughter, and in it he teaches himself what works and what doesn’t. What a gift for a reader to be able to watch that learning unfold. The dialogue among the multiple protagonists in The Big Rock Candy Mountain, for example, sounds stilted in places. It improves, or maybe I just acclimatized. In one way, the novel seems Chekhovian: it’s like a portrait. The master plot moves from setting to setting frequently, but the arc is small. Some scenes and situations go on rather too long and slow the tempo, resulting in an uneven rhythm. And yet, will I ever forget the image of Bo summoning courage, defiance and joy in making that impossible whiskey run in treacherous winter conditions. Other scenes surprise the reader with out-of-character, expository devices like journal-writing, which son Bruce does when he wants to unlock the mystery of his father’s character and his own feelings about him--“Yet it’s important to remember that he isn’t a monster, as I used to think he was”—or like philosophizing at the wheel about what “home” means for the son of a footloose family, which Bruce does when he drives westward across the Dakota plain to join his parents. “As long as the road ran west he didn’t want to stop, because that was where he was going, west beyond the Dakotas toward home.” That, by the way, is one gorgeous soliloquy as Bruce unravels the difference between “home” and “place.” Home is “where the bluebird sings to the lemonade springs,” on the Big Rock Candy Mountain. Stegner’s passion for the west soars sky-high on silver wings. Given these quibbles, I should probably give the book four stars. But I relished the window into a new author exploring his outsized gift, pushing against fences, letting himself be seduced by detail, experimenting with technique. The imperfect passages are touched with greatness. It’s like seeing an early Monet or van Gogh. Also, as further defense for my decision to go with five, I am unapologetically in love with Stegner. Yes, my husband knows.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Liza Fireman

    This book is so very painful. Mental and physical abuse is so terrible and runs in the family from father to son, makes wives and children miserable and reserved, stepping on tip-toes to not annoy the "bad-tempered" dad. This book is semi-autobiographical, which makes my heart shrink even further. With a dad that is chasing an impossible dream to be rich (and making all the mistakes possible), and on the way getting tangled every time with the law in illegal business, taking all of his frustrati This book is so very painful. Mental and physical abuse is so terrible and runs in the family from father to son, makes wives and children miserable and reserved, stepping on tip-toes to not annoy the "bad-tempered" dad. This book is semi-autobiographical, which makes my heart shrink even further. With a dad that is chasing an impossible dream to be rich (and making all the mistakes possible), and on the way getting tangled every time with the law in illegal business, taking all of his frustration out on a kind-hearted, almost submissive wife (that finds excuses for his horrible behavior, like most abused wives), and two kids that oh-suffer-so-much from being around him, with no kind word, no kind act towards any of them. Such impossible life, the American dream gone extremely wrong (or twisted to begin with), so much frustration, so many disappointments, your heart will ride this tragedy with sadness. Stegner is a master, and that is his best book that I read so far.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Shelli

    This was a slow burn. At times difficult to read and at times heart wrenching . If you need a faster pace this might not be for you. If you want to feel like you actually know these characters by the end, then it is. I did read this with trepidation throughout, due to the volatile nature of the main character Bo Mason. Stegner for me has the ability to think of a story in his head and when he puts pen to paper it reads like you are there in the story. Very real. No gimmicks. This book is called This was a slow burn. At times difficult to read and at times heart wrenching . If you need a faster pace this might not be for you. If you want to feel like you actually know these characters by the end, then it is. I did read this with trepidation throughout, due to the volatile nature of the main character Bo Mason. Stegner for me has the ability to think of a story in his head and when he puts pen to paper it reads like you are there in the story. Very real. No gimmicks. This book is called semi-autobiographical. When I did some research, much of it is based in facts. The characters are based on his own mother, father, brother and himself. Knowing how closely this describes the author's early life makes it all the more heartbreaking. Lucky for us he went on to a successful writing career. This is my second book by Stegner and won't be my last.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Rachel

    I'm on a Stegner kick. The Big Rock Candy Mountain drags your heart along for the ride as you read about two generations of the Mason family and their (mis)adventures scratching out a life in succeeding versions of America's western frontier. The patriarch Bo Mason berates his wife Elsa and frightens his sons Chet and Bruce across more states than you can count. But even in the end, his insatiable taste for booms and busts remains endearing, or at least somehow forgivable. A little long towards I'm on a Stegner kick. The Big Rock Candy Mountain drags your heart along for the ride as you read about two generations of the Mason family and their (mis)adventures scratching out a life in succeeding versions of America's western frontier. The patriarch Bo Mason berates his wife Elsa and frightens his sons Chet and Bruce across more states than you can count. But even in the end, his insatiable taste for booms and busts remains endearing, or at least somehow forgivable. A little long towards the end, but mostly in the interminable tragedy of it. A great book by a great writer and describer of the American West in all its incarnations.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Regan

    Wallace Stegner’s Angle of Repose is absolutely one of my favorite books. The beauty of Stegner’s prose combined with a plot that follows the challenges of settling in the West that my own ancestors faced makes it resonate with me deeply: From wishful goldmines in Nevada to bootlegging and moving and moving and moving and switching jobs over and over. I hoped I’d have the same reaction to The Big Rock Candy Mountain. It’s got much of the same beautiful prose and understanding of living in and mak Wallace Stegner’s Angle of Repose is absolutely one of my favorite books. The beauty of Stegner’s prose combined with a plot that follows the challenges of settling in the West that my own ancestors faced makes it resonate with me deeply: From wishful goldmines in Nevada to bootlegging and moving and moving and moving and switching jobs over and over. I hoped I’d have the same reaction to The Big Rock Candy Mountain. It’s got much of the same beautiful prose and understanding of living in and making the West like this: And then the spring, and the sale, and that wonderful week or two when they were really on their way and the world opened out westward into hope. The deeply faulty characters seem representative of a love-hate relationship with the West and all it has to offer and also take away. In the last chapter, reflecting at his father’s funeral, Bruce could be talking about either his father or the West: I tell you...in spite of the hatred I have had for him for many years, that he was more talented and more versatile and more energetic than she. Refine her qualities and you would get saintliness, but never greatness. His qualities were the raw material for a notable man. But it’s just a little too long, a little too repetitive and just not tight enough with the plot. It’s good, and in many ways prescient of his Pulitzer Prize winning Angle of Repose, but not great and more depressing than hopeful.

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