Retired historian, Lyman Ward, returns to his deceased grandparents' house to put their papers in order, and begin a memoir of their remarkable lives on the Western frontier at the end of the nineteenth century. His research leads him to letters his grandmother wrote to her best friend. Ward is forced to reexamine his own life, as he uncovers the reasons for the pain he observed in the last years of his grandparents' married life.
Angle of repose is derived from mining terminology, and refers to the point at which a stone will come to rest on a slope. In the novel, it is a metaphor for the period in one's life where one reaches contentment, and yearning and restlessness are at an end. This novel won the Pulitzer in 1971. It has extremely rich characterizations, particularly of the grandmother, Susan Burling Ward. She is a very prim young woman from Boston, with a budding professional career as a magazine illustrator, who leaves the East to follow her husband to remote mining camps in the Western territories, where he seeks steady employment as a mining engineer and land surveyor. His career difficulties, and their frequent moves, play havoc with their relationship, but in their grandson's eyes, turn her from a snobbishly "cultured" lady to a woman of real character. This sprawling novel traces four generations of a family who lived as early settlers of a West that showed little hint of its eventual prosperity.
Reviewed by lw, 12/99. Other reviews by lw.