Monday, May 30, 2016

Old Timey Greatness from Stegner

I'm attempting to read all of Wallace Stegner in order of publication, though I had to give up on Fire and Ice (not my cup of tea).  But, I really enjoyed On a Darkling Plain, published in 1940, which is one of Stegner's early and lesser known works.  It tells the story of a young man injured during WWI, who, upon his return, decides he wants to live out all by his lonesome on the endless Saskatchewan prairie.  While he hopes to maintain little contact with society, surviving out alone on the plains necessitates him working in cooperation with his neighbors in times of harvest, illness, and winter preparation.  It's a fascinating look at a young man's psyche, and an old fashioned take on living "off the grid." It also has some old timey passages and beautiful descriptions that I greatly enjoyed, as follows:

Interesting-looking chap, pleasant but reserved,  all of him gathered up and held in, none of him spilling over in the garrulous small talk of lonely homesteaders come to town. 

He felt it himself all about him:  the good earth, old and tired and resting, veined with rivers almost too tired to flow; nature restful and healing as sleep in the sun to an old man, quiet as afternoons in an empty house.  That was the best of it:  the quiet, the aloneness.

You could probably feel a man as a person in this country, not as a mote in a dust storm, a figure in a multiple sum, a uniform in the marching ranks. 

His whole life was slowed to a timeless, vegetative placidity...with hours to hunt a thought down and exhaust it. 

In the delicious cool of the water he felt the hot pump of his heart ease up.  He ducked his head under, came up to throw back his hair in a water-slick pompadour. 

The harsh and beautiful brotherhood of death would drip away, and the war which settled no problem of nations would not even have settled the minds of the men who fought it. 

There was a tightening in the earth, a drawing in, a sense of little time remaining and much to be done.

It was a good feeling to feel a shoulder next to you when the bolt hit close. 

There was something about Vickers that calmed you down.  You felt the strength in him like a tempered wire, and it strung up your own slack and trebling nerves in sympathy. 

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