Wallace Stegner was probably the greenest fiction writer of the late 20th century. His literary reputation rests on his short stories and novels such as Crossing to Safety and the Pulitzer Prize–winning Angle of Repose.
But he had a second fame as a historian and environmentalist who believed people were destroying the West or, as he wrote in his 1960 “Wilderness Letter,” allowing “virgin forests to be turned into comic books and plastic cigarette cases.”
Nancy Huddleston Packer writes in the Spring issue of The Sewanee Review that Stegner was already involved the conservation movement when she began sharing an office with him at Stanford University. She adds:
“One theme that ties his novels and his nonfiction together is the importance of taking care of the natural world. The bad characters in the fiction are those who exploit and destroy the land, such as the blithely destructive hippie Jim Peck in All the Little Live Things. … Even the good guys can be destroyers. In All the Little Live Things Joe Allston attempts to construct an eastern Eden out in the western Los Altos Hills. To do so requires a good deal of killing, of gophers and aphids and snails and indeed all the little live things. This novel is in a sense an argument between Allston, the manipulator and in some ways destroyer of the earth, and Marian, a sensitive, loving, dying young woman who wants to preserve the natural even red in tooth and claw. In the end Marian wins the argument.”
© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.