Remembering Laughter–Stegner’s Amazing Debut

Remembering Laughter

By Wallace Stegner

Published 1937

Read Feb 2022

This author continues to explore Stegner’s canon which is quite remarkable although not fully appreciated.  Remembering Laughter apparently was written as a submission to a contest held in 1936, which he won (1). The novella (about 160 pages) launched Stegner’s exceptional writing career. 

Elspeth moves in with her older sister, Margaret, and her husband, Alec, on their farm in Iowa.  Elspeth revels in her new surroundings and life.  Margaret seeks to find friends and potential marital matches for her sister.  Unfortunately for all of them, Elspeth and Alec make one fateful trip to the barn loft resulting in Alec’s only child, a son.  The discovery of the affair destroys all of their previous relationships but the three remain living together, along with their “nephew”. 

No page of this novella is wasted.  While telling this sad tale, Stegner also conveys marvelous descriptions of the scenery of the farm, exquisite perceptions of the rural social scene into which Margaret is trying to bring Elspeth, and conveys the frigidity of the relationships following the betrayal.   Even in his debut, Stegner demonstrates amazing gracefulness and ability to address human truths. 

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