Thursday, August 20, 2009

My Antonia by Willa Cather




I have driven through Nebraska. More than once. Not much to it: flat expanses of cornfields, wheatfields, soybeanfields. Omaha. Chimney Rock, though by that point you're practically out of Nebraska and into a more interesting states. I would not predict enjoying a state where the highlight city is the Insurance Capital of America.

So why do I love Willa Cather's books about Nebraska? I've only read two (this one and O Pioneers!), but both times by the end, I found myself imagining Nebraska with a sort of romantic fervor. I know, that sounds silly. But it isn't.

Perhaps it's the time period. My Antonia is set in the days when people still frequently lived in sod houses, when the land was angry and untamed and brutal (I guess it's brutal now, but it doesn't LOOK brutal...). But it isn't just that. It's that Cather obviously loves the land and people so much. Willa Cather's books are rooted in the soil of a place in a way that reminds me of Wuthering Heights, or Les Miserables.

Beyond this, there is a wonderful feeling in this book of respect for characters. In many novels, the characters are made to serve the plot. Not so in My Antonia. The characters, in this book, are paramount, and nothing is ever sacrificed to the sanctity of the souls of those characters.

That being said, the book wasn't perfect. I honestly didn't like the last few sections of the book nearly as much as the first parts. They felt rushed and shiftless at times. But, the sheer lush power of Cather's tongue makes this book a journey into the soul of a place:


There seemed to be nothing to see; no fences, no creeks or trees, no hills or fields... There was nothing but land: not a country at all, but the material out of which countries are made... I had never looked up at the sky when there was not a familiar mountain ridge against it. But this was the complete dome of heaven, all there was of it.... I don't think I was homesick. If we never arrived anywhere, it did not matter. Between that earth and that sky I felt erased, blotted out. I did not say my prayers that night: here, I felt, what would be would be.

8 comments:

Amanda said...

I thought this book was a little scattered, but pretty good. Not as good as Archbishop, though.

Jason Gignac said...

Honestly, of the three of hers I've read, I enjoyed this one the least, but at the same time, some of those stretches of language are just so gorgeous, I can see why it's famous. But O Pioneers made characters that I'm more invested in.

Rebecca Reid said...

I really enjoyed this when I read it in school. I'm reading ARchibishop in a few months, and I do want to reread this some day. Thanks for the thoughts. I too wanted to go see Nebraska, even though I'd also driven through it and found it dull in real life!

Jason Gignac said...

Archbishop is a WONDERFUL book, I like it better than this one. If you liked this one, I do have to recommend O Pioneers.

Rebecca Reid said...

Jason, I know I read that one but I can't recall A SINGLE THING about it, so I guess I didn't really read it, huh.

Jason Gignac said...

*laugh* Maybe I just remember it as being better than it was :P

Shellie (Layers of Thought) said...

My Antonia is one of my all time favorites! Its like an adult version of Little House on the Prairie. I have not read any of he other books but they are on my list.
Your description was perfect.

Jason Gignac said...

Thanks, I'm glad you enjoyed it :)