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The Big Rock Candy Mountain (Penguin Classics) Paperback – 27 Jul 2010


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Bo Mason, his wife, Elsa, and their two boys live a transient life of poverty and despair. Drifting from town to town and from state to state, the violent, ruthless Bo seeks out his fortune-in the hotel business, in new farmland, and, eventually, in

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The train was rocking through wide open country before Elsa was able to put off the misery of leaving and reach out for the freedom and release that were hers now. Read the first page
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Amazon.com: 79 reviews
97 of 101 people found the following review helpful
The powerful lure and tragedy of the American Dream 10 Oct. 1997
By ezreid@inav.net - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Wallace Stegner is different than most famous American writers, eschewing colorful literary activities like drug use, wife-swapping, and gross public displays of antisocial behavior. After a most difficult childhood, which is essentially chronicled in The Big Rock Candy Mountain, he married and stayed married, and received appointments to the faculties of prestigious universities.
Yet Stegner's childhood, on the harsh plains of Saskatchewan, in the timber camps of the Northwest, and as the son of a bootlegger, marked Stegner as the survivor of a headlong and foolhardy quest after the American dream. That dream, and the belief that it could easily be found in the Plains and mountains of the North American West is abstracted in the mind of Bo Mason, the literary doppelganger for Stegner's father, as the Big Rock Candy Mountain.

Much of Stegner's work focused on the choices we make in life, and the effect those choices have on our loved ones. In many ways, his urge towards moderation in personal affairs mirrored his burgeoning interest in conservation, and both were born of his childhood, where he saw precious commodities like love and timber misused and wasted.

The Big Rock Candy Mountain captures the drive, much lost in recent years, towards the frontiers of our existence. The frontier myth--and after reading Stegner's work you'll realize it is to a certain extent a myth--is perhaps the single defining attribute of what it means to be American. Stegner realizes this, and he realizes what can happen to our reality when the quest for a dream is taken too far.
45 of 45 people found the following review helpful
A bold and raw work by one of America's greatest writers 5 Mar. 2005
By Craig Wood - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Wallace Stegner wrote "The Big Rock Candy Mountain" relatively early in his career (1943, at age 34), and the book reflects the author's enormous talents, which were still developing at that time. Stegner tells the tale of Bo Mason, who leads a rootless life on the fringes of the law. Mason is a bootlegger, gambler and precious metals speculator. Each peak he achieves is higher than his last, and each valley is deeper. This is true both financially and in his relationship with his wife, Elsa, and two sons, Chet and Bruce. Some reviewers point out that the story is somewhat autobiographical. That's probably a safe assumption. But it's also the story of the American West a century ago, where raw optimism, the struggle for acceptance, and harsh realities shaped people's existence.

The harsh reality of "The Big Rock Candy Mountain" is that it isn't one of Stegner's best works. Of course, that's a very high standard. Readers will understandably have great expectations when diving into this book, and some may be disappointed. For example, the younger son's seething hatred towards his father is introduced early in the book and is central to the conclusion, but is poorly developed in the interim chapters. Likewise, the voice of the book drifts between the 3rd person and the 2nd person. This gives the reader a voyeuristic glimpse into each character's personal thoughts. It's a nice gimmick, but awkwardly executed.

On an absolute scale, this book is a no-brainer 5 stars. But relative to other Stegner novels, "The Big Rock Candy Mountain" has some minor flaws. Read it and you'll certainly enjoy it. But you'll appreciate even more the experience of reading the early efforts of one of America's greatest 20th century writers.
49 of 51 people found the following review helpful
A Memorable Experience 3 Oct. 2004
By gwalsh - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I read Wallace Stegner's "Angle of Repose" and liked it very much, so I decided to try this one, his first major novel. I enjoyed this book even more than the later, Pulitzer Prize winning work. "The Big Rock Candy Mountain" is a more straightforward narrative than "Angle of Repose." It is obviously a memoir of Stegner's own childhood, along with extensive material based loosely on his parents' lives.

Stegner's descriptions of life in the upper western plains during the first two decades of the twentieth century read with an amazing freshness and clarity. The scenes of childhood and family life around the time of the First World War leave unforgettable impressions. The details are lively and crystal clear.

Stegner structures his novel with a sure knack for keeping the reader's interest. He has an instinct for creating tension within discrete episodes, which are well paced throughout the book. You live through blizzards, droughts, an epidemic, and even a car chase with bootleggers. There are also beautiful descriptions of the west and plenty of psychological and ethical dilemmas to ponder.

In some ways this book reminded me of the Nebraska novels of Willa Cather and the works of John Steinbeck. However, the characters in "The Big Rock Candy Mountain" don't always show the nobility of Cather's pioneers; nor are they primarily victims of natural and economic disasters like the Joad family in "The Grapes of Wrath." The people in Stegner's novel make decisions, often tragic ones, and live out the their responsibilities for those decisions not only as they affect themselves, but also as they impact on those around them.

As is widely acknowledged, this novel is about the American Dream - the drive for status, wealth, and easy money -- the golden opportunity just beyond the rainbow. Looking at shows like "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" or "The Apprentice," it is easy to see that these beliefs are still alive and well in our popular culture. Stegnar is unambiguous in his condemnation of this mentality. Yet, he expresses his views with compassion and understanding. Stegner describes forces that are integral parts of our heritage and tradition, and he does so in a way that even today should appeal to readers of any political persuasion.
26 of 27 people found the following review helpful
Bleak House on the Prairie 12 April 2006
By K. Dain Ruprecht - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This is probably one of the darkest, most merciless books I've ever read -- exceeded only in bleakness by Sigrid Undset's "Master of Hestviken." I picked it up expecting a book about pioneers, but "Little House on the Prairie" this is not, though it was written around the same time (early 1940's). Imagine pioneering not with the gentle, kind, intelligent, and progressive Charles Ingalls as your father -- but with his unstable, bipolar, obsessive-compulsive, violent, abusive and sadistic twin. This book could serve as a nifty handbook for women on the perils of marrying a sexy baseball-playing "bad boy." The mother suffers, and suffers, and suffers some more -- the father acts horrible, and more horrible, then redeems himself somewhat, but eventually devolves into one of the most truly despicable characters in modern fiction, whilst mom is martyred by her own bad choice in a man. Seriously, there were moments in this book when I was shocked -- SHOCKED! -- and I don't consider myself a lightweight. All the same, I just couldn't put this book down! It's an incredibly interesting portrayal of the tragectory of a f***ed-up American family 1880-1920, including the infamous 1918 flu epidemic. And the father really is a fascinating character; if you are an amateur psychologist it's fun to identify his various pathologies.
29 of 32 people found the following review helpful
Tough and relentless story 12 Jun. 2003
By Peggy Vincent - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
When I read that BRCM is 'roughly autobiographical,' I was stunned that a writer of Stegner's magnitude could come from such a pitiless, brutal background. The transient, rootless, poverty-stricken upbringing of the children in the Mason family is rife with tension, resentment, and a level of bleakness that's hard to comprehend. Bo Mason is the most powerful character, by far, a bootlegger always chasing the dream of fast money and instant wealth. It's hard to know exactly how Stegner feels about the character of Bo's wife, a long-suffering, self-sacrificing woman who remains loyal and always seems to be making excuses for him to their children. It's tough reading a story of such an abusive family situation, but it sure reads 'real' in its portrayal of a search for roots, for home, for love, for connection.
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