Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Books: Willa Cather ... Was She Writing About My Life?

I confess that once again I am writing about a book BEFORE I have finished reading it. I often do this. The bad thing about this is that I really don't have the complete picture. The good thing is that I will not give away the ending. It is hard to not hint at the ending once you know how the story comes out.

When we were in Mexico a couple of weeks ago I finished reading Ann Cleeves' Red Bones: A Thriller (Shetland Island Mysteries) on my Kindle app. It was a good mystery as always. I love Ann Cleeves a lot.

I had down loaded a couple of very old books written by Willa Cather. I needed a change of pace and Cather is one of the great American storyteller that has survived the test of time. I chose to read The Song of the Lark, one of a trilogy that also included O' Pioneer and My Antonia. I had read My Antonia several years ago so Song of the Lark and O' Pioneer caught my eye. I suppose I liked the idea of reading Song of the Lark because the book not only included the story but also featured a biography of the author. So I am reading it first. It is said that the story itself was the most biographical of all those she had written.

The book was published in 1915 so the time frame is very real because the author was not studying history. She was living it.

Click picture for link to the book.

The book was set in a place called Moonstone, Colorado. The railroad ran through it. A section of town on the other side of the tracks called Mexican Town housed those people that came to work and live in that dry, hot, windy place. There were sand dune near the edge of town that attracted picnics outings. The minister was Swedish and his wife was perfect in that way a minister's wife could have been. Thea, the main character, was their daughter. She was one of six or so children.

The description of that place might have been written about my home town located in the far eastern part of Oregon. I can visualize the the hills turning green in the spring as the cheat grass grew and purple as it the seeds ripened. Best of all, I can still hear the lark singing on a spring morning.

The hot in the summer and cold and unforgiving in the winter made it a the place that required grit and common sense. Those that didn't have those qualities didn't survive.

Willa Cather described Moonstone as a place people were blown into and never left. I felt that the residents thought of it as a place they found themselves by accident but from which there was no safe escape. The railroad was their link to the outside world. Maybe I felt that way because my hometown had that feeling too. We all bring our own reality to any book we read.

The Doctor Archie had this to say:
We're all a lot of gamblers without much nerve, playing for small stakes. The railroad is the one real fact in this country. That has to be; the world has to be got back and forth. But the rest of us are here just because it's the end of a run and the engine has to have a drink. Someday I'll get up and find my hair turning gray and I'll have nothing to show for it."
The stingy wife, drunken Mexican and conservative religious neighbors all had a place in the book. Education didn't count for much either and most people's grammar reflected that fact. I find it hard to imagine that a person like me born in 1941 would still be experiencing that "frontier American" she was writing about in 1913.

The story is written as only Cather could write...simple, evocative and compelling. The main character, Thea, was given the gift of talent. That was something not many people possessed in her world. Though others might have grown in another place, it was only because she was independent and willful that she managed to move out into the "real world".

That was what I called the escape I made. I left a very a small town to live in the "real world". Now I can hardly wait to get back to reading my book.

In the meantime I suggest that you download this little book that goes for $.99 onto your Kindle and take a vicarious journey into that time before WWI when the west was young and the railroad divided almost every small town in the western part of the United States.


Link to the Prairie Trilogy:

The Prairie Trilogy: O Pioneers!; The Song of the Lark; My AntoniĆ”


  1. This trilogy sounds inviting, especially the Song of the Lark. I left a smaller town too (50,000 pop.) and moved far away to another town of the same size. A great deal in price for my Kindle.

    1. My small town had a population of 500-800 people. I will tell the story of then and now one day soon. Thank you for stopping by Terra.

  2. Willa Cather, a great American author who has preserved much of our history through her novels. Thanks.

    1. Yes she did. What a great read! She is simply timeless.


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