Sunday, September 26, 2010


by Wallace Stegner

When the cottonwoods have been rattling at you all through your childhood, they mean home . . . one puff of wind through those trees in the gully is enough to tell me, not that I have come home, but that I never left it." (p 116)

Nostalgia is a longing for once familiar circumstances or surroundings that are now remote or irrecoverable. It is this nostalgia that is the hallmark of Recapitulation, a novel by Wallace Stegner, that surrounds you while depicting events and details unfamiliar and raises the feeling of nostalgia for those once familiar circumstances of your own that are as remote as that small town in which you were raised and that you left long ago seldom to return. It is the return of Bruce Mason to his home town of Salt Lake City and the memories that the visit triggers that inhabit the pages of Stegner's fine novel with an aura of nostalgia that makes the reader feel that he is part of Mason's life as he grows and learns and experiences some of the common rites of every young man's journey through life. Except he is no longer a young man and his view is from a distant adulthood that gives the memories a melancholic tinge and, perhaps, a certain emphasis that shades the memories with the patina of time.

Stegner creates real believable characters in Mason's family, among which include a distant and imperious father and loving mother who is nearer in spirit to her studious son. Bruce is able to escape a life that is supported by a father whose profession is selling contraband (during prohibition) through hard work both in several jobs that provide financial independence and his studies that emancipate his mind. His trip to Salt Lake City, seemingly to perform the necessary rites surrounding his Aunt's funeral, becomes a traversal of a previous life. One filled with ghosts and none closer to his adult self, yet further in a sense, than himself as he ponders near the end of the book:

"He felt like the last remaining spectator at the last act of a play he had not understood." (p 274)

Through his beautiful prose and his ability to capture the essence of nostalgia and the characters that inhabited the play that was the life of Bruce Mason, Wallace Stegner creates a wonderful story and a great book.

Recapitulation by Wallace Stegner. Penguin Books, New York. 1997 (1979)

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