Angle of Repose tells the story of Lyman Ward, a retired professor of history and author of books about the Western frontier, who returns to his ancestral home of Grass Valley, California, in the Sierra Nevada. Wheelchair-bound with a crippling bone disease and dependent on others for his every need, Ward is nonetheless embarking on a search of monumental proportions - to rediscover his grandmother, now long dead, who made her own journey to Grass Valley nearly a hundred years earlier. Like other great quests in literature, Lyman Ward's investigation leads him deep into the dark shadows of his own life.
It is at first disconcerting that the narrator sounds half the age of the author's narrator: Lyman Ward is an elderly, severely crippled historian at odds with his wife and children over his ability to live alone and write. But Mark Bramhall's comparative youth is soon forgotten as he leads us into the saga of intertwined generations. His pacing, his characterizations, and his convincing emotional repertoire embed us in this 1971 Pulitzer Prize winner that is in no way dated. Stegner's heroine is Ward's grandmother, Susan Burling Ward, a 19th-century writer and artist living in the rough mining towns of the West with her idealistic engineer husband. Bramhall's Susan is sometimes too girlish, but this, too, is a small matter; overall, he offers us a fine reading of a superb book. A Penguin Classics paperback. (Mar.)