by Wallace Stegner
I have held off a few days to write about this book, because it\’s hard to know what to say about it. It\’s a story of neighbors, an account so vivid in detail feels like a real experience. The narrator and his wife are in their retirement, come to the California hillside community for some peace and quiet, which they fail to actually find. His wife has more patience, but the narrator is constantly irritated by a close neighbor\’s neglect of certain aspects of his land, and rough improvements in other areas, that end up eyesores. He is further perturbed by the constant barrage of insect pests, gophers, moles and diseases that attack the garden he tries to cultivate. And even more irate at a hippy squatter who lives across the creekbed, taking outrageous advantage of the owner\’s blind eye to his constant stretching of their unwritten agreement that allows him to be there. Into this uneasy circumstance comes a new set of neighbors- a young couple with a daughter and a baby on the way- even while the wife, gentle and wise and allowing of all things their right to live- down to the gnats, fleas, ticks and germs that plague people- is slowly dying of cancer. This is a story in which not much happens- and you see the ending coming from very far off- yet it is all told with such depth of perception and wry humor it took me an incredibly long time to read it because I could not get through more than one chapter, if even that, in a sitting. It is a story of people, and their depth of feeling. It is so dense with meaning and thought and bitter, bitter irony. Marian\’s character is lovely and sad, the hippy kid is interesting and repugnant, some other neighbors and acquaintances thrown together at a Fourth of July barbecue are all curious in their own way. I think the most amusing passage was when the narrator tried to appraise this lady\’s hideous metal sculptures honestly at said party, without hurting her feelings. Even though I saw the ending coming, there were still a few shocking surprises, and the reappearance of the hippy guy added an unfortunate twist to the final incident. A book I will definitely not forget anytime soon, and must keep to read again. Reminds me in some parts of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.
Rating: 4/5 288 pages, 1967