The Spectator Bird
I picked this up after reading Stegner’s later novels Crossing to Safety and Angle of Repose. I had to sit with it for weeks before I could begin to wrap my brain around what, exactly, Stegner was trying to say. Maybe that’s because the novel itself asks hard questions, and offers no easy answers. It’s a short read—only 224 pages—but if you’ve never read Stegner, I don’t recommend starting here. Pensive, wistful, thoughtful.
This tour-de-force of American literature and a winner of the National Book Award is a profound, intimate, affecting novel from one of the most esteemed literary minds of the last century and a beloved chronicler of the West.
Joe Allston is a cantankerous, retired literary agent who is, in his own words, “just killing time until time gets around to killing me.” His parents and his only son are long dead, leaving him with neither ancestors nor descendants, tradition nor ties. His job, trafficking the talent of others, has not been his choice. He has passed through life as a spectator, before retreating to the woods of California in the 1970s with only his wife, Ruth, by his side. When an unexpected postcard from a long-lost friend arrives, Allston returns to the journals of a trip he has taken years before, a journey to his mother’s birthplace where he once sought a link with his past. Uncovering this history floods Allston with memories, both grotesque and poignant, and finally vindicates him of his past and lays bare that Joe Allston has never been quite spectator enough.