Wallace Stegner, Where the Bluebird Sings to the Lemonade Springs

How did I not find Wallace Stegner before?!? Partly because my lack of interest in Wallace Stevens kept me from Wallace anyone, if I can confess the staggering depth of my pettiness, partly because he's American and I choose Canadian whenever I can. Partly because I don't know who in my life would have known his work to tell me about him.

It turns out that he views as highly formative some childhood years spent in Saskatchewan, so I could extend an honorary mantle of Canadian-ness to him anyway, but I don't need to. This book articulates more cogently than anything else I've ever seen the peculiarities of growing up intellectual in the West. This book automatically goes into my repeat cycle, and I'm eventually going to read everything else Stegner wrote -- and much of what he enjoyed reading, too. I've got a sense of mission for my academic, writing, and reading lives now, and while I'm sure that sense will prove frail, I've got this gem of a book to reach back to.

In the beautiful final essay, Stegner remarks that he felt always that his enveloping culture was one of movement rather than stability, of isolation and fragmentation rather than coherence. As a result his youthful revolt was unlike those of non-Westerners:
I had to revolt away from what I was, and that meant toward something--tradition, cultural memory, shared experience, order. Even my prose felt the pull of agreed-upon grammar and syntax. Eventually, inevitably, I was drawn to what I most needed. (223)
Which is why (shock of recognition!) I love grammar so much. It is. I know it is.

But I'm right with Stegner about the next step as well, which he doesn't articulate in quite such a quotable morsel. Namely, we who love the West -- no matter how unconscious our love -- are engaged in the process of settling it more deeply than simple accommodation. We're looking to see the West properly, richly, in all its angles and colours, so that we act toward it with honour. Ignoring the east and its history, or Europe and its history, isn't the answer, but enmeshing ourselves in the development of our own Western places and their history -- now, that's the right answer, the way forward.

So back I go, gleefully, to the ungainly popular verse of Robert E. Swanson and Robert Service, to the unfashionable 1940s fiction about logging and farming, to the lovely lovely poems of Tim Bowling (and the ones I don't like, of which there are more than I'd like...), maybe even to Joe Garner, autographed copies of whose novels grace many a yard sale on Vancouver Island. My place makes sense, if I can just take the time to make sense with it.

The Douglas Adams caveat, of course, in relation to the Electric Monk in Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency: "The Door was The Way. Good. Capital letters were always the best way of dealing with things you didn't have a good answer to."

Today, though, I'm a True Believer -- to the big rock candy mountain, folks....


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