Cover Image: Wallace Stegner's Unsettled Country

Wallace Stegner's Unsettled Country

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This is an interesting book and provides insight into the philosophy behind Stegner’s westerns as well as his more sociological writings on Japanese internment camps.

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<i>I really only want to say that we may love a place and still be dangerous to it. - Wallace Stegner, "Thoughts in a Dry Land"</i> (from the Prologue of <b>Wallace Stegner's Unsettled Country: Ruin, Realism, and Possibility in the American West</b>.

A discussion is initiated and presented within the pages of this book in the form of twelve essays about the many ideas and concepts contained within the writings of Wallace Stegner, and the extent to which he (and others who followed his lead - and who inspired him in his thinking) changed the way we think about "The American West"- that huge "empty" backyard of the Thirteen Colonies (also previously "empty") and how we saved all that from going to waste (jk).

We have as a people, fortunately, been experiencing a change of mind, a reconsideration of history, of our ancestors' motives, of all the many contributors of the mixed-bag legacy we are sorting through - it's a messy garage they've left us to sort through, and the stories they've told us are . . .not quite right. It's time to reconsider, revisit and be brave enough to revise some of these stories we are telling ourselves.

As for me - I'm a big fan of Wallace Stegner, with all his flaws. Just like I love Scarlett O'Hara. I just can't say GWTW is my favorite book anymore. Angle of Repose - another all time favorite. But it's clearly time to rethink and reposition - just like how you love your racist Granny. She's who she is, and to the extent you can change things, do. But, most of my racist Grand Folks are long gone, and the best I can do is sort through their stories, and place them in context, hear the words but never forget to listen hard to the spaces in-between, and the parts of stories they leave out - that's what you learn later or from other sources. Still important to pay attention to, though.

That is what this book does. It takes the works of Wallace Stegner (and the contemporaries he played with) and thoughtfully sorts through different aspects. Outting his White Guy leanings, his blindspots, while considering each carefully. Flags are raised in places I hadn't even considered, and advocacies and championing are recognized in other writings. (My TBR list grew appreciably from this read). The essays are well-researched, documentation shared, and are well-presented.

While it may be long-winded of me, I wanted to share the TOC so readers can see the variety of topics covered in the 12 essays (my own take-aways):

<i><b>Prologue: Wallace Stegner in His Time and in Ours</b>

<b>RUIN (Stegner's failings, flaws and blind spots)</b>
1 <u>Wallace Stegner’s Unsettled Country: Ruin, Realism, and Possibility in the American West</u>, Mark Fiege
[Lays the groundwork for the general premise. . . ]

2 <u>The American West as Exploited Space: From One Nation to Poston</u>, Alexandra Hernandez
[WWII use of park lands generally for Japanese Internment; specifically Poston in Arizona's Parker Valley]

3 <u>Creation as Erasure: Wallace Stegner and the Making and Unmaking of Regions</u>, Michael J. Lansing
[American settlements created over communities already established and existing by disappearing them]

4 <u>Exploits against the Effete: Wallace Stegner and Bernard DeVoto, Men of Western Letters</u>, Flannery Burke
[Outting the narrow concern of WS's writings - For instance - What's manlier according to WS&Co: Western writers v Eastern writers? - with notes that non-white, and non-men don't even register in the discussion!]

5 <u>Returning to the Best Idea We Ever Had</u>, Michael Childers
[National parks. . .all about the good and bad and whose they were to begin with. . . .]

<b>REALISM (Questions myths and tropes WS and his admirers perpetuated)</b>
6 <u>The Legacies of Wallace Stegner and the Stegner Fellowships in a Changing American West</u>, Nancy S. Cook
[WS writing and teaching changing the literary landscape of America, and his mind changing as he aged]

7 <u>Sludge in the Cup: Wallace Stegner’s Philosophical Legacy and the Hard Job Ahead</u>, Michael A. Brown
[WS's philosophical hopes he would leave with readers - did he miss the mark? Can you step in the same river twice. . .maybe. . .but did he?] A great discussion!

8 <u>Hope in Public Lands: A Conversation</u>, Leisl Carr Childers and Adam M. Sowards
[Public lands - discussed by two over years - "the geography of hope" (WS's phrase) and how it shows up in his works, advocacies and others influenced by him over the years]

<b>POSSIBILITY (Further areas of discussion/debate about what constitutes a usuable education in today's world and a reconsideration of WS themes of hope and bridging differences)</b>
9 <u>The Education of Wallace Stegner</u>, Melody Graulich
[Influence of learning institutions on WS, and further affect through his writings] "Culture is a pyramid to which each of us brings a stone." (WS from Living Dry)

10 <u>Revisiting "The Marks of Human Passage"</u>, Robert B. Keiter
[Dinosaurs and Bears Ears]

11 <u>The Geography of Hope in an Age of Uncertainty</u>, Paul Formisano
[Resources of the West (water, space, minerals) - ?should use or shouldn't? ?who controls?]

12 <u>The American West as Unlivable Space</u>, Robert M. Wilson
[Water, climate change, ecological challenges in the West - expansion too far hasn't worked - does WS have any answers?]

<b>Epilogue: Richer for this Sorrow</i></b>

<i>The Westerner is less a person than a continuing adaptation. The West is less a place than a process. - Wallace Stegner, <b>Thoughts in a Dry Land</b></i>

<i>There is a sense in which we are all each other's consequences. . . - Wallace Stegner, <b>All the Little Live Things</i></b>

Well-written, carefully presented in an even-handed way, this Wallace Stegner fan is pleased to have these new perspectives to think about. WS isn't my only favorite who has been shown as more storyteller, than truthteller and one needs to have tools to handle those kind of mind changing processes. This book provides some of those tools. It is certain that everyone should reconsider, revisit and readjust / realign / reject the "truths" and "histories" that have come down through the generations - because times, they are (and always have been) a-changin'. . . .

*A sincere thank you to Mark Fiege, Michael J. Lansing, and Leisl Carr Childers, University of Nebraska Press/Bison Books, and NetGalley for an ARC to read and independently review.* #WallaceStegnersUnsettledCountry #NetGalley

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Mark Fiege, Michael J. Lansing, and Leisl Carr Childers all have essays in Stegner's Unsettled Country that broaden one's understanding of Stegner as an American writer of the West. I appreciate the consideration taken of Stegner's efforts to be more understanding of the plight of non-white populations in the story of the American West with his misses on that very subject. There's also a good deal of attention given to the ecological aspects of Stegner's writing and his concern for the future of our environment. I gained a good appreciation of his work. I've read a couple of his novels and now will consider reading "Big Rock Candy Mountain" due to the positive reviews of this particular novel and it's impact on a couple of the authors in this collection of essays. The only reason I gave it 4 stars instead of 5 was because I thought there was some repetition and overlap in the essays that could have been culled or revisited in the editing process. For the most part I'd say this book would be of interest to anyone who wants a better understanding of the American West, Stegner, and how we might consider the history and even the geographical boundaries of it from the scope of our present day perspectives. We have to consider more diverse interpretations of what we know of the past now that we have more diverse voices being included in the conversation.

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