I was all set to recommend this unequivocally to all of you! I enjoyed this book so much in so many ways...a gem of a book; a Pulitzer winner; beautifully written; insightful. A bit of a long read, but worth it. Yet, the last section fell flat for me. I just did NOT like the ending!
"The title is an engineering term for the angle at which soil finally settles after, for example, being dumped from a mine as tailings. It seems to describe the loose wandering of the Ward family as they try to carve out a civilized existence in the West and, Susan hopes, to return to the East as successes. The story details Oliver's struggles on various mining, hydrology and construction engineering jobs, and Susan's adaptation to a hard life."
The book has enormous depth concerning life, and particularly the give and take of marriage. Set in the Victorian era there are lovely passages from the letters of the real person Susan Ward is based on, Mary Hallock Foote. The book is based on Mary's life with Arthur Foote, a mining engineer to takes her west, away from her comfortable and creative eastern existence. But the book is told from the perspective of their supposed grandson, Lyman Ward, who is writing as a disabled, unhappy man in the 1970s. It becomes Susan and Oliver Ward, truly Mary and Arthur, and yet expanded in historical novel fashion. Lyman Ward's perceptions of his own failed marriage and disappointments in life color his work on his grandparents a bit too much. At times I loved the sections about Lyman, and his views of early 1970s life, but at other times I felt it went too far afield from the story of the grandparents. Then, that last section, a raw and disturbing dream sequence that clearly lays full blame for his marriage failure (and his grandparents's problems) on the wife, really bothered me. To me, Lyman's wife and his grandmother are totally different people, and the circumstances way too different to correlate. It wasn't the book ending I had expected. I would say, read it, and come to your own conclusions about the enormous value of the work. For writing alone it was a delight. I give you a quote...
" Below, to her right, the canyon was impenetrable, without even a flash from the water, but the little flat across the river, with its haystack, shack and corral, was a drawing in charcoal and Chinese white, a precise, focused miniature in the streak of moonlight across the shoulder of Arrow Rock. Out of their flat shadows the poles of the corral and the trunks of the cottonwoods bulged with a magical roundness like the moon's. As she watched, charmed, the trees below must have been touched by the canyon wind, for flakes of light glittered up at her and then were gone. But there was no sound of wind, and where she stood there was not the slightest stir in the air. The glitter of soundless light from that little picture lighted in the midst of darkness was like a shiver of the earth."