I'm a little more than halfway through the excellent biography, Wallace Stegner, His Life and Work, by Jackson J. Benson.
Benson concentrates on Stegner's lifelong struggles with writing,in particular how hard it was for him to find his "voice," the way of expressing things that was unique to him. And it was not until he had written hours a day for years that he was able to come up with this in his novella, "Field Guide to Western Birds":
A very pleasant elderly rich lady has invited Kaminski, a young pianist of talent, to entertain her guests. He insults everyone and tries to make his hostess uncomfortable. He scorns the food and says that he may refuse to play. Here is what Stegner writes about the reaction of two guests, Joe and Ruth Allston:
"If she weren't so nice it would be almost funny."
"But she is so nice."
As I circle my nose about the heaped and delectable trencher, the thought of Kaminski's bald scorn of food and drink boils over my insides. Is he opposed to nourishment? "A pituitary monster," I say, "right out of Dosteoevsky."
"Your distaste is a little obvious"
"I can't help it. He curdled my adrenal glands."
"You make everything so endocrine, " she says. "He wasn't that bad. In fact, he had a point. It is a little alcoholic for a musicale."
"It's the only kind of party they know how to give."
"But it still isn't quite the best way to show off a pianist."
"All right, " I say. "suppose you're right. Is it his proper place to act as if he'd been captured and dragged here? He's the beneficiary, after all."
"I expect he has to humiliate her, "Ruth says.
Complex adults in a complex situation. Distasteful but we've all been there. How rare that is in fiction. Some writers, like Fitzgerald and Salinger, were youth phenomena. Stegner, like James, did his best work in maturity. Although Big Rock Candy Mountain is damn good.
Footnote: Having read the entire biography and seeing his life whole, I feel ambivalent about Stegner and his work. He was very conservative and class conscious in spite of his liberal views on environmentalism and his opposition to the Vietnam War. He admired women as defenders of the home, helpmates, guardians of culture, what women of the West were known for. He did not admire other kinds of women!
He himself felt that he was not, in the end, very wise. That may be true. But I do not think his students would have agreed, even the ones who seemed to turn against him. (Among his students were Ken Kesey, Edward Abbey, Gary Snyder, Tillie Olsen, and many many others.)
He could not embrace the changes of the 60's and remained to the end of his life a gentleman with high standards for his own behavior and that of others. Who thinks such things these days?
All in all, Stegner's a fascinating, complex figure, emblematic of his time and place.
Here is a fine article from Stanford Today about Mary Stegner. It picks up a lot of what these people were about.