My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I loved this book - perhaps more for the narrative style and depth of the material than the story itself. Stegner reminds me of how beautiful the sentence can really be. Here, the narrator is on a ship headed to Denmark and is wanting to avoid a Midwestern couple also on board:
"They are awkward and diffident, and would get chummy on the slightest invitation, but I know this kind from childhood -- pious, censorious, opposed to smoking drinking cardplaying dancing movies books language thinking. They sit in lace-curtained parlors and tsk-tsk on an indrawn breath, they know every unwanted pregnancy in town sooner than the girl does, they want English teachers in Augustana College fired for assigning A Farewell to Arms, they wrote the Volstead Act. And touching in a sort of way."
I knew people like that growing up in Minnesota. I wrote "yes!" in the margin.
This is a book about truth and memory. The narrator, Joe Allston, spent six months on sabbatical in Denmark some twenty years ago. The surface drama of what Allston recalls for the reader is easily absorbed, but there is something happening at another level than I need to return to. The narrator refers to Marcus Aurelius over and over again - Stoic philosopher and Roman warrior. The title, The Spectator Bird probably refers to that need for that narrator to separate himself from the emotional world of those around him, particularly as he finds himself in the last years of his life,