Seeing as this splendid book has no reviews here, I felt I must remedy that. Stegner opens this story as an autobiographical look at his childhood in a small southern Saskatchewan plains town, and his return many years later with different eyes. He's actually more surprised about what hasn't changed than with what has, and he uses that perspective to introduce the rest of his tale, the early pioneering of the western plains, and why that history was characterized by more failures than successes. His re-telling of the winter of '06/'07 in Genesis is masterful, and we are left wondering how is was that humans could have endured all those early pioneers did. But he is careful never to suggest that the northern plains are wasteland, rather he adds another puzzle piece to the picture of why the plains was, and is still so important to mankind.
A book very worth reading, and enjoying!
Wallace Stegner is the Pulitzer-prize winning author of Angle of Repose
, a novel I've been meaning to read for years. Wolf Willow
is a hard book to categorize given that it is part memoir of Stegner's boyhood growing up on the remote frontier of the Cypress Hills and the town of Whitemud in southern Saskatchewan, part history of the region, and part fiction with a brilliant novella, Genesis
taking up the middle portion of the book describing the harsh winter of 1906-1907 and the cowboys' tormented struggle to try to round up the cattle and calves stranded in the snow-covered plains of the region. Stegner relates his boyhood in the region and then struggles because at the time he really did not know any of the history of the area. He then goes on to describe the history from his adult perspective when this was written in the 1950s. He includes the history of the Native Americans including the plains Indians who fled to southern Canada after the Battle of the Little Big Horn. He also relates the history of the early trappers and traders from the Hudson Bay Company and the MÃ©tis
, a group of peoples in Canada who trace their descent to First Nations peoples and European settlers. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police were also an early part of the history. Then Stegner uses his eloquent prose in the novella mentioned above, one of the high points of the book. At the end, he returns to the town to see how it has evolved and concludes that most of the inhabitants who bettered themselves in life ended up leaving for places with more opportunity including himself. Overall, an interesting portrait of life and hardship on the plains of Western Canada.
I love Wallace Stegner's writing, but this book, which must have meant a lot to him--was a bit tedious. He writes about his time growing up in a specific place and comes at it from many different angles and time periods. I imagine it was a moving experience for him to recall and write about all these memories, but it didn't hold my interest except in a few places.