The Spectator Bird

The Spectator Bird This tour de force of American literature and a winner of the National Book Award is a profound intimate affecting novel from one of the most esteemed literary minds of the last century and a belove

  • Title: The Spectator Bird
  • Author: Wallace Stegner
  • ISBN: 9780140139402
  • Page: 407
  • Format: Paperback
  • This tour de force of American literature and a winner of the National Book Award is a profound, intimate, affecting novel from one of the most esteemed literary minds of the last century and a beloved chronicler of the West Joe Allston is a cantankerous, retired literary agent who is, in his own words, just killing time until time gets around to killing me His parentsThis tour de force of American literature and a winner of the National Book Award is a profound, intimate, affecting novel from one of the most esteemed literary minds of the last century and a beloved chronicler of the West Joe Allston is a cantankerous, retired literary agent who is, in his own words, just killing time until time gets around to killing me His parents and his only son are long dead, leaving him with neither ancestors nor descendants, tradition nor ties His job, trafficking the talent of others, has not been his choice He has passed through life as a spectator, before retreating to the woods of California in the 1970s with only his wife, Ruth, by his side When an unexpected postcard from a long lost friend arrives, Allston returns to the journals of a trip he has taken years before, a journey to his mother s birthplace where he once sought a link with his past Uncovering this history floods Allston with memories, both grotesque and poignant, and finally vindicates him of his past and lays bare that Joe Allston has never been quite spectator enough.

    One thought on “The Spectator Bird”

    1. Ever notice how, on rare occasions, certain writers really stand out for their ability to capture the subtle and complex ways of folks? It’s usually a reason to celebrate since these insights are there for us to imbibe. But it may be a source of distress if what’s revealed is a difficult truth. For me, Wallace Stegner is that sort of author, and this book is one I celebra-hate. Actually, hate is too strong a word, even when it’s combined with a good thing. I should say I felt twinges of di [...]

    2. Sometime in the mid-80’s, I read Wallace Stegner’s All the Little Live Things, which was published in 1967 and set in that decade. Despite being an admirer of his work, I wasn’t impressed. I found his main character, Joe Alston, a retired literary agent pushing sixty and living with his wife in the hills near Palo Alto, California, to be tiresome. How would I describe Joe? How about crabby, curmudgeonly, crotchety, bitter, brooding, acerbic, opinionated, argumentative? Yes, any one of thos [...]

    3. In the earlier novel, All the Little Live Things*, Joe Allston had retired from being a literary agent and settled down with his wife Ruth in a country home in California.The story of The Spectator Bird. Wallace Stegner takes place when Joe is 69 years old, and to his dismay much has changed around him. He is working on various notes when he finds an old postcard which prompts him to locate a diary from years before when he and Ruth had visited Denmark. Ruth insists that Joe read out aloud so th [...]

    4. Sartre wrote:We are our choices. At a time of the year when many people of varying ages take stock, Stegner’s story of ageing Joe Allston was especially poignant. Whatever your age, we’ve all had those pivotal moments in life when we chose one fork in the road over the other, and go on to either live with regret, or relief. Even those who feel they’ve lived uneventful lives have, at some point, actively made decisions that altered everything forever.I sometimes get the feeling my whole lif [...]

    5. Perhaps more than most of Wallace Stegner’s novels, this one might be read differently by readers of different ages. Stegner wrote it when he was himself sixty-seven, and his protagonist, Joe Alston, is sixty-nine. This first person narrator is judged by his wife Ruth to have become irritable and depressed, and she is probably correct. Joe’s interior monologues are delightfully curmudgeonly. He is a retired literary editor, and his thoughts and speech are filled with literary allusions. Joe [...]

    6. I have had a bunch of Wallace Stegner's works in my library for a few years but never got around to choosing one. So, about a week ago I walked over to the library and this book sort of jumped out at me. And so at age 63, an age I think is appropriate for reading this book, I settled in for what was a very worthwhile and thought-provoking week of reading. The man writes beautifully and this book touches on things that I think cannot be appreciated until one hits these Golden Years of life. We ha [...]

    7. Another deeply satisfying book by Wallace Stegner, with themes reminiscent of Crossing to Safety and Angle of Repose: mortality, the labyrinth of marriage, the mind game that is aging and physical disability, the search for self. I wonder if to be known to one’s self, to make transparent to ourselves the good and bad that is resident in each of us, is the “safe place” Stegner alludes to so often. Perhaps the safe place is not a physical pilgrimage after all: not returning to our origins, n [...]

    8. I had wanted to read another novel by Wallace Stegner since “Crossing to Safety”. “The Spectator Bird” lived up to expectations and not because it won the US National Book Award for Fiction in 1977. Even though it was written almost forty years ago, the relevance of the issues it dealt with shone through the pages with contemplative resonance.Set mostly in Denmark, “The Spectator Bird” centered on Joe Allston, a 69-year-old retired literary agent, his wife (Ruth), and their summer fr [...]

    9. They say that as we approach old age, some look back with satisfaction and contentment about the life path they followed, and some reflect with regret and guilt, and, in hindsight, wish they had followed other paths to supposedly greener pastures. Approaching 70, our narrator is squarely in the latter category. Despite his and his wife's relatively good health, an accomplished career as a literary agent, and a suburban villa an hour from San Francisco, he is filled with guilt for driving away hi [...]

    10. THE SPECTATOR BIRD. (1976). Wallace Stegner. *****.This is a marvelous un-put-downable novel from Stegner that was fully deserving of the prize for Best Fiction from the 1977 National Book Award. It is the story of a trip taken by a married couple to Denmark, told through the rereading of a series of journals kept by the husband during the trip twenty years earlier. The reader is not quite sure what the theme of the book is all about until very near the end. Suddenly we are brought up to speed v [...]

    11. "Most things break, including hearts. The lessons of life amount not to wisdom, but to scar tissue and callus."I'm not going to waffle on about this one - *cue cheers at the back* - because I'm rather ill at the moment and not in any kind of mood to write an exhaustive - and probably exhausting - review. However, what I will say is that Wallace Stegner is rapidly becoming one of my favourite authors - and I can say that with confidence after reading just two of his books. Crossing to Safety was [...]

    12. Opening: On a February morning, when a weather front is moving in off the Pacific but has not quite arrived, and the winds are changeable and gusty and clouds drive over and an occasional flurry of fine rain darkens the terrace bricks, this place conforms to none of the clichés about California with which they advertise the Sunshine Cities for the Sunset Years.Page 6 - So far as I can see, it is bad enough sitting around watching yourself wear out, without putting your only mortal part prematur [...]

    13. The Spectator Bird is a beautifully written novel. What I loved most was Stegner's thoughtful, profound portrayal of a mature, complicated, loving relationship between a married couple. To steal from The Troggs, Wallace Stegner, you make my heart sing!

    14. Added 9/7/13.I listened to this book via audible. Such great writing! Very rich with allusions and metaphors. Wallace Stegner is remarkable!This was a heartrending story. Stegner poignantly describes the agony of being torn between two loves. There is also a detailed back-story with ominous overtones, but the romantic scenes are always pure.The audio book was read by Edward Herrmann who definitely added to my enjoyment of the story.One GR reviewer wrote that the main character's "interior monolo [...]

    15. A beautiful novel by a master of the form. As we get older and more settled, we find the past calling for its reckoning, and in this novel Stegner takes his protagonist on a reckoning from present-day (1970's) Northern California to post-war Denmark through the journals he kept stashed away among his relics. Stegner is a writer's writer who paints the most evocative and striking scenes with his finely honed descriptive eye, while also maintaining characters of sharp wit and intelligence who have [...]

    16. Another beautifully crafted novel by Stegner about marriage, self-discovery, andcs? Stegner artfully intertwines two plot lines, one that follows an aging, retired literary agent who is approaching his death with a healthy mix of fear, anger, and self-deprecating humor. As readers watch him struggle through his daily routines, something out of the ordinary arrives in his mailbox. It's a postcard from an old friend, a Danish noblewoman he and his wife lived with for a few months more than twenty [...]

    17. A short, skillful novel and an improvement over The Angle of Repose. At first, it seems the story is about aging gracefully with good humor and safety, in spite of the corrosive feeling that in your life, you were a spectator, a valet, to the banquet of life. But it takes a turn as the husband reads his diary to his wife about a trip they took to Denmark twenty years before.For a short book it is multi-layered with the themes of settling into retirement, being part of an old married couple and a [...]

    18. Now that I am in my sixties, I enjoyed this book more this time around. I first read it several decades ago and it didn't resonate nearly so much. Written from the perspective of a 69-year-old retired literary agent, who is aging ungracefully, it touches on many of the unwelcome losses that the accumulated years bring. Joe feels that he has been a spectator to his own life. Then he starts to read his diary aloud to his wife, about a trip they took to Denmark twenty years before. During that peri [...]

    19. I didn't realize until the end that this is a prequel to All the Little Live Things, a favorite of mine. Joe Allston is agreeably irascible, a foil to his wife Ruth and the unfortunate and intriguing woman of secrets, Astrid. Psychologically and philosophically true.

    20. Not a word is out of place in this comparatively short novel by Stegner. And that is eminently suitable for a novel that revolves around the retelling of a 'memoir' (diary-notes *were* taken at the time) and 'life memories' from one particular earlier life-period of a 'retired literary agent,' the protagonist of the novel. So put on your 'literary thinking caps' and stir up your own memories of every 'lit. course' you ever took, way-back-when, because the references and allusions to almost every [...]

    21. Another delightful book from Wallace Stegner. Even though I have ones I favor more than this one (Angle of Repose, The Big Rock Candy Mountain, All the Little Live Things). Stegner is capturing getting old in a way that I do not believe that anyone else succeeds, with the fear, but also with the intimacy of couples that are married for long long years, with regrets and memories, with friends that are going away (passing away, or losing their health, or just far away). Joe is more funny yet grump [...]

    22. This book bored the hell out of me. Which is a shame, b/c Stegner is a wonderful writer and a decent storyteller. The protagonist of the story is a retired literary agent living out his life in Northern California (having retired from New York). A postcard from an old friend sends the character looking at old journals and the story takes off from there. There is no denying Stegner's skill as a writer. He writes clearly and his imagery is evocative. His dialogue is clean and clear. He writes, fro [...]

    23. Wallace Stegner is more praised for his impact on and affiliation with other great authors -- Tom Wolfe, Larry McMurtry, Ken Kesey, Edward Abbey, et al. -- but I consider his own fiction to be rather underrated.One of the highlights of my sportswriting career had nothing at all to do with sports. I chatted for a few minutes with Wolfe once regarding Stegner's antipathy toward Kesey.I've read most of Stegner's fiction and quite a bit of his non-fiction. He is a remarkable craftsman. I encourage y [...]

    24. I LOVED this book. But, then again, I love Wallace Stegner. I listened to it as an audio presentation and the reader, Edward Herrmann, did a fantastic job as an old mand then transitioned into Ruth, his wife, and THEN into the Danish characters. It centers around the theme of an 'old' (68!), arthritic man in the 1970's, and his reminiscence of their time in Denmark in earlier years as he reads his old journals to his insistent wife. It is also about an old man as he ages. I feel Stegner has, in [...]

    25. I am almost certain I will read this again in 20 years time and give it 5 stars. It is full of the poignant, often sad, old age musings of a retired New York literary agent as he battles with ageing, perceived irrelevance and questions of identity and legacy. With both his parents and his only child dead, what will be the evidence he even existed? Has he only been a spectator in life? Is he just killing time until time kills him? His humour is sarcastic and deliciously dry (while travelling he n [...]

    26. Joe Allston is not living his “golden years” gracefully. Nearly 70, he is consumed with the notion that he’s just “killing time until time kills him.” He’s obsessed with his physical ailments and thinks he’s losing his sharpness and vigor. He views his life as mostly one of failure to impact anyone for positive. His wife Ruth is impatient with his dour affect. She urges him to write as a form of therapy, but he’s reluctant to do so as he just doesn’t have the spirit that’s ne [...]

    27. The Spectator Bird tells the story of Joe Allston, a retired literary agent, recalling a past that he bemoans, living in a broken body in a present that he is thoroughly dissatisfied with. The novel exemplifies Stegner’s tendency to play with conventions of narration. In this novel, the story of the present is told through Allston’s narration, while the story from the past that covers much of the novel’s pages is told through Allston’s reading of a diary kept during a vacation to Denmark [...]

    28. With The Spectator Bird Wallace Stegner returned to Joe Allston, whom we first met in All the Live Little Things. He's a retired literary agent, now living with his wife Ruth in California and still depressed about their son's early death in a surfing accident, which Joe thinks might have been suicide.The Penguin paperback edition I read has an introduction by Jane Smiley that is really good. It situates Stegner in the context of his literary times, noting his feeling that the Eastern establishm [...]

    29. A dark and surprising book. For one thing, I wasn't aware that the indignities of old age were a theme in the fiction of the 1970s. The novel alternates between the present, when literary agent Joe and his wife Ruth have retired to California, and the past, when they traveled to Denmark in the aftermath of their only son's death. Twenty years ago, after Curtis died, possibly a suicide, Joe and Ruth decided to spend a few months in Denmark, wherefrom Joe's mother had emigrated as a teenager. By a [...]

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