As a reader, there are some books (and authors) you have been meaning to read. But other books (and authors) would come before it. Unfortunately, Wallace Stegner fell into this category for me. I’ve been meaning to read his work for at least 20 years, and The Spectator Bird has been on my shelf for the past five years. I would get ready to read it, and then I would put it down for something else. Finally, I have read this well-received Stegner novel.
The Spectator Bird is the story of retired literary agent, Joe Allison and his wife, Ruth. They have settled in Northern California after a long career in the New York City publishing world. Joe discovers a postcard from a friend in Denmark. He reads the postcard, and it brings back the memories of a European trip that the couple took years ago.
Ruth finds out that Joe kept a journal about the Denmark trip and asks him to read the journal entries. Joe reluctantly agrees and those journal entries make up the bulk of the novel. Stegner examines the marriage dynamic as Joe reveals more details than he wanted to share. Also, it brings into account that things in the past should stay in the past.
The Spectator Bird is very much a novel about character and how the past brought to life can upset a comfortable lifestyle. The strength of the book is Stegner’s clear and straight-forward prose and as a reader I felt like I was attending a masterclass on how to read a novel that doesn’t need a plot or action to drive the narrative.
I feel bad for this taking long to read Wallace Stegner. The Spectator Bird is not the first novel mentioned with Stegner’s work. Literary critics and longtime Stegner readers consider Angle of Repose and Crossing to Safety as his best novels. However, I believe that The Spectator Bird does not have to take a backseat to either of those aforementioned works and is a great place for readers new to Stegner.
The Spectator Bird will be one of my favorite reads of 2020. This quiet novel about human connection and love is a short-term escape worth taking in lieu of what the world is dealing in the COVID19 pandemic.