Remembering Laughter

by Wallace Stegner

Other authorsMary Stegner (Afterword)
Paperback, 1996

Call number




Penguin Books (1996), 152 pages


Margaret Stuart, the proud wife of a prosperous Iowa farmer, sets high standards for herself and others. Happy in her marriage, she tries to look the other way when her genial husband, Alec, takes to the bottle. When Elspeth, Margaret's sister, comes to live with them, the young woman is immediately captivated by the beauty and vitality of the farm and by the affection she receives from those around her. But as summer turns into fall and the friendship between Alec and Elspeth deepens, Margaret finds her spirit tested by a series of events that seem as cruel and inevitable as the endless prairie winters. Remembering Laughter marked Wallace Stegner's brilliant literary debut.


User reviews

LibraryThing member lit_chick
2011, Blackstone Audiobooks, Read by Cassandra Campbell

“A few hours earlier, they had all been grand people, she thought unhappily, grand people happy in each other’s company – none of them with any ill will or intention of wrong. Now, they had succeeded in so tangling the threads of their
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lives, that only misery could come of it.” (Ch 3)

Proud and proper Margaret Stuart is married to Alec, a wealthy and genial Iowa farmer. Happy in her marriage, and believing her contentment to be mutual, Margaret does her best to look the other way when Alec takes to the bottle with greater frequency. Shortly, her younger sister, Elspeth, comes from Scotland to live with them. Full of laughter and vitality, she is immediately taken with the farm and with the warm affection extended by Margaret, Alec, and their neighbours. But as summer turns to fall, and the friendship between Alec and Elspeth deepens, cruelty is on the horizon. And the world they all love is about to be replaced with a stony, stagnant silence, a calculated tact, and a pretense of unity. But never forgiveness – never that.

Remembering Laughter (1937) was Wallace Stegner's literary debut. I’ve read and loved Angle of Repose and Big Rock Candy Mountain, and my experience here was no different. Stegner has a way of writing characters that makes me want the best for them, even when their behaviour is cruel or foolish, or otherwise intolerable – I felt this way about Bo in
Big Rock Candy Mountain, and Alec plays that role here. Written in the beautiful prose I’ve come to expect from Stegner, Remembering Laughter is novella length, about a three-hour listen. Narrator Cassandra Campbell is exceptional! Highly recommended!
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LibraryThing member TimBazzett
Since I've read several other Stegner books and his Crossing to Safety is a favorite novel of mine, I thought I'd try Remembering Laughter, his very first novel, or 'novelette,' as it was first called. The subject - marital infidelity - is dealt with most delicately, which gives the book something
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of a quaint, dated feeling. The writing itself, however, is assured and eloquent and gives a good, if limited, sense of Iowa farm life at the turn of the 20th century. My gut response to this short read, with all its details of repressed feelings and pent-up sexuality as well as untimely tragic death and dark family secrets, was that it evokes a kind of Ethan-Frome-in-Iowa feeling. I would recommend the book to any student of Wallace Stegner's work.
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LibraryThing member lkernagh
What is interesting is that the book description above seems to give the impression that the story is Margaret's story and told from Margaret's point of view. In fact, the story digs deep into the inner thoughts, feelings and emotions of both Margaret and Elspeth, and to a somewhat lesser extend,
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Alec. It must be tricky to write about the inner conflict that the opposite gender from the author may experience under certain situations. I think Stegner pulls this off rather well. Repression is a key theme running through this story, as is the fleeting glimpses of joy and exhilaration that uninhibited laughter can bring. For a first novel - novella, really - I was rather intrigued by how this story brought memories of Ethan Frome to my mind as I was listening to it. Nothing specific to connect the two stories, it was more a similarity in the tone/starkness of the words, the secluded environment and fleeting glimpses into an emotional reaction of a character than in anything specific.

Overall, I am pleasantly surprised by how much I found myself being drawn into the story. Some of the thoughts/actions of the characters were questionable in my mind, but then again, I have to remember that this story was originally published back in the 1930's, in very different times from what we live in today.
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LibraryThing member Rascalstar
This was the first novel by Wallace Stegner written in 1937. It's remarkably still readable and timely if one considers relationships and ramifications. It's not as complex nor quite as good as his later books, but the descriptions of personal pain are still riveting. Small book, easy read. I love
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all of Stegner's writing and this is no exception.

A successful farmer with land and his wife welcome into their home the wife's sister from Scotland. The younger sister is delighted with the farm, the land, and eventually with her sister's husband, who is comical, creative, and makes people laugh. He also drinks regularly with a farmhand. It's rather a classic story but told with so much heart that the reader will feel the suspense and pain.
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LibraryThing member Mercef
A very short, poignant novel. I’m not sure why this was in my audio collection (must have been free!) as it didn’t tick my usual boxes and I’d never even heard of the author (turns out he’s a Pulitzer Prize winner - oops!). However, this bleak little tale had an evocative sense of time and
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place. Good work from the narrator in this version, too.
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LibraryThing member abycats
Far more depressing than his better known "Crossing to Safety," this novel is set in a dour country of open farmland and determined (stubborn) people. Much unhappiness. Not written with nearly the depth of his more famous works but worth my time.




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