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[419] A Shooting Star – Wallace Stegner

” What was the matter with her that she could not make a life out of what was the envy of every outsider? One prison for another? Most women would not think so. Both what she was born to and what she had married into were scale models of paradise, where the fortunate could enjoy lives of luxury and gratified desire. And all she found was chatter, hallowness, horror. ” (9,112)

Albeit too long for the story it has to tell, A Shooting Star is a riveting personal drama of a woman whose impulsive misstep leads her down the path of mental and moral disintegration. Sabrina Castro is a doctor’s wife in Pasadena who is tired of her marriage and her life. Her husband, who is more passionate for his duty as a physician than their intimacy, treats her like a prop. For over twelve years, beside repression and inadequacy, Burke treats her no more than like a father who is obligated to train her character, not that she doesn’t pine for avuncular love growing up fatherless.

She only felt sickened, and she had no idea what medicine to take, for she diagnosed her sickness as herself. When she was quiet in her mind, the quiet was only apathy; and when she emerged and began to think and feel . . . how she was twisting to throw the blame back on Burke’s chilliness or Bernard’s cowardice, then she returned into self-loathing and disgust which was her apathy’s truest center. (18,216)

She has not intended treachery when she meets Bernard by accident. He is the ticket to happiness except, behind his passion, his warmth, his deference and admiration of her, is the immovable fact of his previous commitment. It’s an ugly, dishonest dream. In such self-loathe and disgust Sabrina wallows. Nor does she find comfort at her mother’s luxurious estate in the woods of Hillsborough. Her mother indulged in idiotic family worship, his brother taken advantage of his mother’s earlier illness to get more power in his hands than she has meant to surrender. As Sabrina struggles to find her purpose, suicide and vileness cross her mind. A gamut of contradicting emotions, of which Stegner is a keen observer, sweeps over her. Menial labor she deems unfit and domestic chore she has no forte. She decides to use her influence to help non-profit with a land endowment.

It seemed to her she had never loved anything in her life. Love in her had been a demand, an anger, a hostility, a challenge, a greed. Burke was right, it was an ultimatum she had presented him with. A spoiled brat with a temper tantrum. (32,297)

A Shooting Star is a very close examination of one’s personal difficulties, but without passing any judgment. Sabrina is a well-developed character who literally walks out of the pages, in full with her hysteria and paranoia. Her problem is so real regardless of her family legacy and wealth. Misery and unhappiness are inclusive. In spite of herself, and her affair, she also has had her conscience shaped by generations of conventional puritanism she had always despised. So she knows a good deal about herself without being able to forgive herself for it. Reminiscent of Stegner’s other works, this novel is primarily concerned with questions of personal identity and the problem of achieving stability amidst the impermanence and dislocation of the modern world. That said, I do not recommend it to readers who are new to him, although it is written in a detached, traditional, and realistic and contemplative style.

433 pp. Trade Paperback. [Read/Skim/Toss] [Buy/Borrow]

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One Response

  1. I love Stegner and recently purchased this title. Although it may not be his best (Crossing to Safety holds that honor in my mind), I hope to read it sometime this winter.

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