I suppose I will never catch up on the books I missed reading during the years my job as mom and ward “I’ll do whatever you need me to do” person limited my reading to short newspaper and magazine articles. I have finally read Wallace Stegner’s wonderful, Angle of Repose now that I have time to repose myself into a horizontal angle on the sofa.
Angle is a book about marriage. Stegner had an ear for realistic dialogue—the words couples use to snipe at each other in the frustration of their unfulfilled dreams. Like the secondary characters in his later novel, Crossing to Safety, the husband and wife in Angle are often in a situation where the wife’s income is more important to the family than the husband’s—a tricky situation in the 21st century, but really difficult for a couple in this 19th century setting.
Oliver, the husband, is a self-taught mining engineer who must move from job to job in rough mining camps. Any man in that occupation should probably stay a bachelor—but Oliver falls in love. His fatal flaws, which are partly responsible for his lack of prosperity, are his trusting nature, aversion to confrontation, and inability to forgive serious wrongs.
Susan, the wife, comes from a genteel, Eastern background. Her fatal flaw is wanting to be like her best friend, Augusta, who comes from a well-connected, prosperous family. Susan almost worships Augusta. She believes Augusta is the more talented artist even though it is Susan who gets paying commissions for her work. Susan dreams of marrying the magazine editor who befriends her—but proposes to Augusta.
Probably few women could be happy moving from one rough camp to another as Susan must do with Oliver. Still, her envy of the perfect happiness she imagines Augusta’s life makes her own situation more difficult.
Susan and Oliver’s story is told through the eyes of a grandson who reconstructs their lives from a collection of old letters and newspaper clippings. In the process he gains insight into his own fatal flaw and begins to deal with it.
It’s easy to identify fatal flaws in friends and family members. Possibly we should ask ourselves, “What is my fatal flaw?” Admitting a flaw helps us deal with it even if we can’t entirely overcome it. Probably most flaws, like Oliver’s trusting nature and aversion to confrontation, are really virtues overdone. Usually, we just need to reign them in a bit.