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Selected Shorts: Travelers: A Wallace Stegner Tribute

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Sunday, July 17, 2011

A traveling salesman lost in a snow storm finds himself, and a farm family dreams of an excursion to town in two stories by this American master.

The stories on this program were the fruit of  a SELECTED SHORTS visit to the state of Utah, where we presented a program at the beautiful auditorium of the new Library in Salt Lake City—a stunning edifice designed by the architect Moshe Safdie.  The program included selected works of Wallace Stegner, best known for the novel Angle of Repose.  Stegner spent a good part of his life in Utah and depicted it in his novels and short fictions.   

As the two stories on this program demonstrate, he was a vivid word painter of the harsh and majestic Western landscapes and the inner struggles of the people who inhabit them.  Each of these stories is connected to automobiles and each depicts a spiritual as well as a physical journey. 

In the first, entitled “The Traveler,” a salesman’s car breaks down in the snow on an isolated country road on a dark night.  In the course of his efforts to get help and to simply survive, the man finds himself, to his surprise, on a journey of self-discovery.  The reader is Jack Davidson.

If our first Wallace Stegner story began with a car breaking down, “Goin’ to Town” begins with an old flivver that just won’t start, no matter how much the father cranks it up and fiddles with the wires under the hood.  And this is very bad news for the young boy who has looked forward to the day when his parents and he would drive from the isolated hardscrabble farm to the far away nearest town for the picnic, rides, fireworks, and holiday parade that will break the monotony of the endless, repetitive chores of farm life.

Much of the drama of this story has to do with the outward mechanics of trying to start the inert jalopy.  But a great deal has to do with the inner emotional life of father, mother, and boy.  This led us to try a rare innovation in our SELECTED SHORTS style, arranging the third-person narration and the three-way family dialogue among three actors’ voices.  Lillo Way is the voice of the young boy, and Jack Davidson and SHORTS host Isaiah Sheffer take turns as the father and mother. 

The musical interlude in this program is “Eventide” by Kenneth Fuchs. The SELECTED SHORTS theme is Roger Kellaway’s “Come to the Meadow.”

“The Traveler,” by Wallace Stegner, read by Jack Davidson 

“Goin’ to Town,” by Wallace Stegner, read by Jack Davidson, Isaiah Sheffer, and Lillo Way.

 For additional works featured on SELECTED SHORTS, please visit http://www.wnyc.org/shows/shorts/

We’re interested in your response to these programs.  Please comment on this site or visit www.selectedshorts.org

 

Comments [1]

Michael Corden from New York City

How very unfortunate that you spoiled the story by giving so much away with the phrase "an old flivver that just wouldn't start no matter how much the father...cranks...and fiddles..."

Why did you do it? Why should we, the audience, know in advance that the effort was to prove futile. Why dash the possibility that we would identify with and share with the boy the hopes and anxieties that yet even as they fail in each effort, that they may actually make it. And have that hope dashed as the day (the story) progressed?

You do know, don't you, that yours was an act of careless and reckless disregard of your audience? Give us a break and don't get in the way. Let Stegner's words alone reveal the shattering of the prospect of the excitement away vs. the monotony at hand.

For me, it was torturous to know the ending and the ultimate futility of these people's efforts. Do it again and you will lose me forever.

Michael Corden
NYC

Your spoiler:
... “Goin’ to Town” begins with an old flivver that just won’t start, no matter how much the father cranks it up and fiddles with the wires under the hood. And this is very bad news for the young boy who has looked forward to the day when his parents and he would drive from the isolated hardscrabble farm to the far away nearest town for the picnic, rides, fireworks, and holiday parade that will break the monotony of the endless, repetitive chores of farm life.

Jul. 17 2011 04:47 PM

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