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The Spectator Bird

By Wallace Stegner

Original Publisher: The Franklin Library
Current Publisher: Penguin Books

Harold Augenbraum writes:

When you read a book about memory and its triggers, you can’t help but think about Proust, who based his great book on three types of memory: voluntary, involuntary, and historical. His novel itself was a fourth, an autobiography that talks back to the writer. Here Stegner goes a bit further, adding a truly mnemonic device, a series of snapshots in words, a diary that throws the writer and his wife into a maelstrom of remembered and unremembered thoughts and feelings, after so many years of pressing emotional flowers between the pages of other yearbooks. That the main character is not a writer himself but a literary agent—that grand anomaly of literary connoisseur who appreciates and enthuses but does not create—who is then forced to confront his past through his own writing adds texture to an already brilliant evocation. Then add the juxtaposition of the Nordic and the Mediterranean—the Danish aristocracy, the Italian novelist—the middle and upper classes, the ethics of twentieth century politics, and you have a seamless, beautiful work of imagination and re-imagination, of personal and social history, of love and family, of intimacy and alienation, of loss and discovery.

Harold Augenbraum is Executive Director of the National Book Foundation, an editor and translator.

ISBN: 9780140139402

Fiction Finalists that Year:

  • Raymond Carver for Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?
  • MacDonald Harris for The Balloonist
  • Ursula K. Le Guin for Orsinian Tales
  • Cynthia Propper Seton for A Fine Romance

Fiction Judges that Year: Erskine Caldwell, George P. Elliott, Orville Prescott

The Year in Literature:

  • The Pulitzer Prize was not given for Fiction.
  •  Vicente Aleixandre won the Nobel Prize for Literature.

More Information:

This was Wallace Stegner’s one and only National Book Award, but he had already won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction five years earlier, in 1972, for Angle of Repose.

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