REVIEWSrnWallace Stegner,rnWriter of the Westrnby Gregory McNameernWallace Stegner: His Life and Workrnby ]ackson BensonrnNew York: Viking Press;rn488 pp., $32.95rnThe Geography of HopernEdited by Mary StegnerrnSan Francisco: Sierra Club Books;rn288 pp., $14.95rnWallace Stegner: Man and WriterrnEdited by Charles RankinrnAlbuquerque: University of NewrnMexico Press;rn280 pp., $45.00rnWallace Stegner’s death on Aprilrn13, 1993, was not, as the clichernhas it, untimely. He had lived to the respectablernage of 85, after all; had lived tornsee the wide-open West of his early yearsrncarved by bulldozers, devoured by cities,rn— LIBERAL ARTS —rnHATE AMERICArnIn the November/IDecember editionrnof Immigration Watch, an anonymousrnstudent at UC/Riverside describes arn”hate America” movement on hisrncampus spearheaded by the radicalrnHispanic group MECliA, whose goalrnis the secession of the Southwesternrnregions of the United States. “Sincernday one,” the student reports, “therernhas been an endless barrage of haternAmerica speeches, desecrations ofrnthe American flag.” Hispanic activistsrnalso erected a wooden shack inrnthe middle of the campus which displayedrnsuch slogans as “Kill thernWhite Man,” “Will Someone PleasernShoot Pete Wilson,” and “AmericarnMust Fall.”rnand filled with people. Untimely, no;rnbut perhaps ironic, for Stegner died fromrncomplications following an automobilernaccident, a victim of the technologicalrnworld he had long decried.rnBooks about Stegner are beginning tornappear: to judge by thern, it may take anotherrn85 years fully to appreciate WallacernStegner’s gift to the American West. Hisrncontributions were many, not the least ofrnthem his having helped shape the literaturernnot only of the region but of pointsrneast, through the scores of graduatesrnfrom the Stanford University writing programrnthat bears his name. One of themrnwas Edward Abbey, the Jeremiah ofrnWestern environmentalism, who cultivatedrna rough-and-ready, self-taughtrnimage, but who once told me that hernbecame a writer not in the desert wildsrnbut in the halls of Stanford. Another isrnWendell Berry, the Kentucky poet andrnfarmer. Still another is Ken Kesey, whorncombined the cowboy ethos with hippiernsentiment to shape novels of the NewrnWest like Sometimes a Great Notion andrnOne Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.rnStegner was of the last generation tornexperience a truly frontier West. His fatherrnwas a land speculator who draggedrnhis family from one dusly town to anotherrnin search of easy riches, and who, Stegnerrnrecalled, “died broke and friendlessrnin a fleabag hotel, having in his lifetimerndone more human and environmentalrndamage than he could have repaired in arnsecond lifetime.” His mother was old atrn30, broken by a rootless marriage markedrnby one humiliation after another. It wasrnnot an auspicious beginning.rnThe transient youth found his homernin the libraries of small towns like Yuma,rnKanab, Alamosa, and Rock Springs. Thernbooks he read there, books like JohnrnWesley Powell’s Explorations of the ColoradornRiver and Mark Twain’s RoughingrnIt, helped him put his life into a nativerncontext: when he began to write, first articlesrnand then books, he did so as arnproud Westerner, disinclined to apologizernto Eastern readers for living byrnchoice in the Great American Outback.rnStegner’s was an important shift inrnattitude. Most contemporary writingrnabout the West concerned virtuousrnwhite women kidnapped by howling savages,rnstraight-jawed lawmen battlingrnsnake-eyed gunslingers, and fifth-columnrnrenegades attempting to thwartrnManifest Destiny. Much of that writing,rnin fact, came from the pens of men andrnwomen who never saw the West. One ofrnthem, the enormously popular writerrnKarl May, penned his dime novels insidernthe walls of a German prison while herndid time for fraud.rnInstead, Stegner wrote of the realitiesrnof Western life: whiskey-soaked cities, violentrnmining towns, ramshackle fishingrnvillages and line camps, dusty farmyards.rnHe wrote of honest emotions, of painrnand love and loss. He wrote splendidrnnovels like Angle of Repose and The BigrnRock Candy Mountain, evoking all that isrnright and wrong with the West: a hauntinglyrnbeautiful land full of riches, but fullrnof fools’ promises as well.rnHe wrote books of nonfiction, too,rnthat helped restore a sense of real historyrnto the backcountrv. His collection of essaysrnMormon Country remains one of thernbest books ever to introduce Latter-DayrnSaints doctrine and culture to non-Mormonrnreaders; his Beyond the HundredthrnMeridian recounted the amazing feats ofrnhis boyhood hero John Wesley Powell asrnhe surveyed the post-Civil War West; hisrnWolf Willow portrays a Colorado, Alberta,rnUtah, and Montana that exist nowrnonly in books and a few aging memories.rnYears ago, Wallace Stegner called thernAmerican West “hope’s native home.”rnIn the last decade of bis life, he grew lessrnbuoyant. Regarding the West as “less arnplace than a process,” he came to findrncause to abandon hope at its gates, nowrnthat its great cities had grown “to thernlimits of their water and beyond, likernbacterial cultures overflowing the edgesrnof their agar dishes.” One of the few surprisesrnin Jackson Benson’s serviceable—rnbut only just—new biography of WallacernStegner, in fact, is that at the end of hisrnlife Stegner was so depressed about thernrape of the American West that he intendedrnto move to Vermont, where, hernrightly maintained, there was more wildrnnature to be found than in California.rnIn his last years, Stegner, who had disdainedrnthe young radicals of the Vietnamrnera, became a cultural rebel. Inrn1991, he declined a presidential NationalrnMedal for the Arts, citing his dislike ofrnthe government’s tampering with cultur-rn28/CHRONICLESrnrnrn