Angle of Repose
Goodreads ratings
4.24 / 5

"Angle of Repose" Summary

By Wallace Stegner

fiction | 482 pages | Published in 2000


Estimated read time: 6 min read

One Sentence Summary

A wheelchair-bound historian grapples with his personal life while writing a biography of his grandparents' struggles in the American West.


In "Angle of Repose," written by Wallace Stegner and published in 1971, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author takes readers on a captivating journey through time, exploring the intricacies of human relationships and the pursuit of happiness. Stegner combines historical fiction, memoir, and fictional letters to create a thought-provoking narrative that delves into themes of love, loss, family, and the meaning of home. Set in both the past and the present, the novel offers readers a unique perspective on the challenges and choices that shape our lives.

Brief Synopsis

"Angle of Repose" tells the story of Lyman Ward, a wheelchair-bound historian, who embarks on a quest to uncover the forgotten story of his grandparents' lives. With a deep curiosity about the past and a desire for connection, Lyman delves into the letters and diaries left by his grandmother, Susan Ward, to piece together the history of his family.

The novel transports readers between the present, where Lyman struggles with his own failing marriage and physical limitations, and the past, where the extraordinary lives of his grandparents unfold against the backdrop of the American West in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Susan Ward, a talented artist, finds herself drawn to the rugged landscapes of the West and the promise of adventure. She marries Oliver Ward, a mining engineer who fills her life with both joy and hardship. As they move from place to place, Susan tries to balance her artistic aspirations with the expectations of marriage and motherhood. Oliver, burdened by his own demons and professional obstacles, finds solace in the solitude of his work and the unpredictable nature of mining.

Throughout their journey, Susan and Oliver encounter a host of fascinating characters who shape their lives and challenge their understanding of love and loyalty. From friends and neighbors to fellow pioneers and even Native Americans, the diverse cast brings depth and complexity to the narrative.

Main Events

  • Susan and Oliver Ward meet and marry in the East, but their marriage faces challenges as they struggle with Oliver's career and Susan's desire for artistic fulfillment.
  • They travel to various mining towns, including Colorado and Idaho, where they encounter the hardships and excitement of the frontier.
  • Susan becomes close friends with Augusta, a strong-willed woman who defies societal norms and pushes Susan to follow her own dreams.
  • The Wards face both personal and professional setbacks, including a mining disaster and Oliver's declining health.
  • They move to California, where Susan finds success as a portrait artist, but their marriage continues to deteriorate.
  • Susan befriends Shelly, a Native American who introduces her to Indian culture and spirituality, leading to a deeper understanding of the land and her own identity.
  • Oliver's death brings a sense of freedom and liberation for Susan, allowing her to pursue her artistic passions without restraint.

Main Characters

Character NameDescription
Lyman WardA wheelchair-bound historian who tells the story of his grandparents and struggles with his own marital issues and physical limitations.
Susan WardLyman's grandmother, a talented artist who strives to balance her artistic aspirations with marriage and motherhood.
Oliver WardSusan's husband, a mining engineer burdened by personal demons and the challenges of his profession.
AugustaSusan's close friend and confidante, who encourages her to pursue her artistic passions and pushes back against societal expectations.
ShellyA Native American friend of Susan's who introduces her to Indian culture and spirituality, reshaping her perspective on the land and her identity.

Themes and Insights

"Angle of Repose" explores several thematic elements that resonate with readers and provide valuable insights into the human experience.

1. Home and Belonging

Stegner delves into the longing for a sense of home and belonging, showcasing the arduous journey of pioneers who constantly seek stability and a place to call their own. Through Susan and Oliver's experiences, the novel highlights the deep desire to find a physical and emotional home in a rapidly changing world.

2. Gender Roles and Expectations

The novel addresses the limitations and expectations placed on women during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Susan, Augusta, and other female characters challenge societal norms and strive to assert their individuality and pursue their passions amidst a patriarchal society, often at the cost of personal sacrifice.

3. Human Relationships and Connections

Stegner explores the complexities of human relationships, both romantic and platonic, and how they evolve and change over time. The novel highlights the impact of love, friendship, and loyalty on individual lives and the lasting legacy they leave behind.

4. Self-Discovery and Identity

Through Susan's encounters with different cultures and the natural landscape of the West, the novel explores themes of self-discovery and identity. Susan's journey allows her to redefine herself and discover a deeper connection to the land and her own artistic passions.

Reader's Takeaway

"Angle of Repose" is a captivating and poignant exploration of love, loss, and the resilience of the human spirit. Stegner's masterful storytelling weaves together the past and present, offering readers a unique perspective on the choices we make and the impact they have on our lives. This Pulitzer Prize-winning novel invites readers to reflect on their own relationships and the pursuit of happiness, delving into themes that are both timeless and deeply relevant.


"Angle of Repose" is a beautifully crafted novel that skillfully combines history, fiction, and personal reflection. Stegner's rich and immersive storytelling transports readers to a bygone era, where the challenges and triumphs of the Wards become an allegory for the universal desire for love, fulfillment, and connection. This is a book that lingers in the hearts and minds of readers long after the final page is turned, reminding us of the power of storytelling to illuminate the complexities of the human experience.

Angle of Repose FAQ

  1. What is the book 'Angle of Repose' about?

    Angle of Repose is a novel written by Wallace Stegner. It tells the story of retired historian Lyman Ward, who is confined to a wheelchair and begins to explore the lives of his grandparents through their letters and diaries. The book delves into themes of love, marriage, betrayal, and the challenges of living in the American West.

  2. Who is the author of 'Angle of Repose'?

    The author of 'Angle of Repose' is Wallace Stegner.

  3. When was 'Angle of Repose' published?

    'Angle of Repose' was first published in 1971.

  4. Is 'Angle of Repose' based on a true story?

    Although 'Angle of Repose' includes historical elements and is inspired by real events, it is a work of fiction. The characters and their stories are the creation of the author.

  5. What are the major themes explored in 'Angle of Repose'?

    Some of the major themes in 'Angle of Repose' include the pursuit of happiness, the complexities of relationships, the clash between nature and civilization, and the search for meaning and identity.

  6. Is 'Angle of Repose' part of a series?

    No, 'Angle of Repose' is a stand-alone novel and is not part of a series.

  7. Has 'Angle of Repose' won any awards?

    Yes, 'Angle of Repose' won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1972.

  8. Is 'Angle of Repose' suitable for all readers?

    While 'Angle of Repose' is highly acclaimed and widely read, it contains mature themes and depictions of adult relationships. It may not be suitable for readers who prefer lighter or more straightforward narratives.

  9. What is the writing style of 'Angle of Repose'?

    Wallace Stegner's writing style in 'Angle of Repose' is often described as rich, atmospheric, and evocative. The narrative blends historical research with personal introspection and poetic descriptions of the American West.

  10. Are there any film adaptations of 'Angle of Repose'?

    As of now, there are no known film adaptations of 'Angle of Repose.'