realistic images and what they symbolizern(as we might expect a critic to do), butrninstructs us in interpreting the meaningrnof human actions and failures and theirrnrelation to “the enveloping action,” thernlarger motion that is so often scanted byrncontemporary interpreters who have notrnthe insight and the world view of AndrewrnLytic. His comprehensive understandingrnof Undset’s vision, of the balancernof medieval culture, includes thernobligations of mother and father, wifernand husband, daughter and son, vassalrnand lord, parishioners and priest, the privaternand the public, the spiritual and therncarnal, and life and death. At the end,rnto see “the divine connection betweenrnthe renewing snow and the plague’srnholocaust,” and to see a mother’s deathrnas an instruction in the mystery of creation,rnis to stare deep not only intornKristin Lavransdatter but into somethingrnthat surpasses literary criticism as wellrnas mundane understanding.rn/.O. Tate is a professor of English atrnDowling College on Long Island.rnA Ride Into thernSunsetrnby Gregory McNameernWhere the Bluebird Sings to thernLemonade Springs: Living andrnWriting in the Westrnby Wallace StegnerrnNew York: Random House;rn227 pp., $2100rnAt the age of 83, Wallace Stegner isrnthe eminence grise of WesternrnAmerican literature, a man responsiblernfor shaping the writing not only of thernregion but also that of points eastward,rnthanks to the scores of graduates fromrnthe Stanford writing program that bearsrnhis name. Stegner’s work, regrettably,rnsells far less than that of lesser transplantsrnlike, say, Gretel Ehrlich or BretrnEaston Ellis. Regrettably, I say, becausernhis books are exemplary, whether novelsrnlike Angle of Repose, biographies likernThe Uneasy Chair and Beyond the HundredthrnMeridian, or historical studies likernMormon Country. Regrettably, too, becausernStegner—the American writerrnmost deserving of the Nobel Prize in Literaturern—still has much to tell us.rnI le reiterates some of the themes ofrnhis life’s work in Where the BluebirdrnSings to the Lemonade Springs, collectingrnessays on a range of subjects.rnAmong the most successful are thosernthat open the book, memoirs of Stegner’srnlong tenure as a Westerner. Inrnthem, he writes affectingly of his parents;rnhis father, a speculator whorndragged his family from one dusty townrnto another in search of easy riches andrn”died broke and friendless in a fleabagrnhotel, having in his lifetime done morernhuman and environmental damage thanrnhe could have repaired in a second lifetime,”rnhis mother prematurely aged by arnrootless life marked by one humiliationrnafter another. Stegner has never beenrnquite so open with his past, and his reflectionsrnhelp set the body of his writingrnin clearer context. The title of his collectionrnsimilarly derives from a pole inrnStegner’s upbringing: Harry McClintock’srnhobo ballad of 1928, “The BigrnRock Candv Mountain,” whichrnpromised that drifters would find in thernWest a land dripping with cool streamsrnof alcohol and teeming with handoutsrngrowing from every bush. Those imagesrnhave haunted Stegner for seven decadesrn(The Big Rock Candy Mountain is onernof his early novels). They evoke all thatrnis right and wrong with the West: a landrnfull of riches, but full of fool’s promisesrnas well.rnYears ago, Stegner called the Westrn”hope’s native home.” He is less buoyantrntoday. Indeed, many of the essaysrnin the second section of his book, dealingrnwith the West as a series of environments,rnare marked by an unwonted despair.rnRegarding the arid lands of thernWest as “less a place than a process,” hernnow sees reason for us to abandon hopernat its gates, now that its great cities arern”growing to the limits of their water andrnbeyond, like bacterial cultures overflowingrnthe edges of their agar dishes andrnbeginning to sicken on their ownrnwastes”; now that the irreparable damagernof its vast irrigational “plumbing” projectsrnis becoming increasingly apparent;rnnow that the “western myths that aggrandizedrnarrogance, machismo, vigilanternor sidearm justice, and the oversimplifiedrngood-guy/bad-guy moralitiesrninvented mainly by East Coast dudesrnfascinated by the romantic figure of thernhorseman, and happily appropriated by arnlot of horsemen and sidearm Galahadsrnas self-justification,” which Stegner hasrnlong hoped to dispel, have come to berntaken for history itself.rnThis is not the diplomatic, eminentlyrnreasonable Stegner we have come tornknow through thirty-odd books. In hisrnlast years, Stegner, it seems, is becomingrna cultural rebel, disinclined to roll withrnthe punches. He recently declined a NationalrnMedal for the Arts, citing his dislikernfor the politicization of Americanrnarts in general and the government’s rolernin the culture business generally. He isrnequally quick to condemn the privaternsector’s current crop of get-rich-quickrnhucksters who guide the West’s economyrnand politics—the Sagebrush Rebellionrnjockeys and welfare ranchers—forrntheir overall role in the nation’s destruction.rnIn the last matter, his essay “ArnBrief History of Conservation” is a hallmarkrnof political discourse.rnThe closing section of Where thernBluebird Sings to the Lemonade Springsrnis given over to Stegner’s disquisitionsrnon writers and writing. He pays homagernto two near-contemporaries, GeorgernR. Stewart—a forgotten author whosernwork deserves a new audience—andrnWalter van Tilburg Clark, the author ofrnthe fine novels The Ox-Bow Incident andrnThe City of Trembling Leaves, and to hisrnformer student Wendell Berry, the Kentuckyrnfarmer, writer, and critic of industrialrnagriculture. He turns to his ownrnwork as well, explaining that he writesrn”to make sense of my life” (a goodrnenough reason, and a characteristicallyrnmodest one at that) and offering an observationrnthat beginning writers wouldrndo well to memorize:rnYou take something that is importantrnto you, something vou havernbrooded about. You try to sec itrnas clearly as you can, and to fix itrnin a transferable equivalent. . . .rnSure, it’s autobiography. Sure, it’srnfiction. Either way, if you haverndone it right, it’s true.rn”The land will not be lived in except inrnits own fashion,” Mary Austin once remarkedrnof the West. The history of thernregion has been marked for two centuriesrnby a willful disregard for the land’srnlogic. That has riled Wallace Stegnerrnto new passions, and we should be gladrnto have his anger and his fine new book.rnGregory McNamee is a freelance writerrnliving in Tucson, Arizona.rnNOVEMBER 1992/35rnrnrn