Alexandra looked at him mournfully. “I try to be more liberal about such things than I used to be. I try to realize that we are not all made alike.”
Everything in O Pioneers!
is beauty to me. I am so in love with this book. Maybe it is because I have it in my brain that pioneers by definition suck that Willa Cather always catches me by surprise and turns me upside down. It’s like walking through an alien landscape and then running into my best friend. I thought what I would find was Michael Landon crying into a butter churn, and here you are, everything that is wonderful about humans. Still, I never know whether to recommend that other people read this book, or whether it is better to just keep it to myself. As Alexandra says, we are not all made alike, and maybe what is beauty and revelation to me is Michael Landon crying into a butter churn to you.
It’s so easy to say why I hate writing and difficult to say why I love it. I want to compare Cather to Hemingway because of how steady and careful their writing is, because of how speculation about their lives cheapens conversations about their stories, but no. I want to say Cather writes what is in my soul, but that’s not right either. What she writes is as much her own world as it is my reality, but that doesn’t make her wisdom easy or her power arrogant. She is not looking for my approval, but she is looking outside herself for some kind of truth.
At a particularly conflicted time in my life, I went to a club with some friends and I saw a girl dancing like I have never seen anyone dance in my life. She had cleared out as space for herself to the side of the stage, and it was like every part of her body was electric. It was not only beautiful, it was also full of life. Where I didn’t know which way to turn, this girl was in the Place, doing the Thing. Reading O Pioneers!
is like watching that girl. Everything is alive in this book.
But, again, I’m struck by the feeling that it may not be alive to you as it is to me. I’ll give you a few descriptions as objectively as I can, and you can judge for yourself. It is about contrasts: country and city, speed and slowness, youth and age, passion and steadiness, inspiration and hard work, deprivation and entitlement. It is operatic. It is kooky at times and kind, but not funny. It is understated and even-handed. It is written by a woman. It is about women and men, who are all sometimes as passionate as people are, and other times as wise as people should be. It is specific, but not petty. There are awkward parts (specifically book 2, chapter 9, though I even think that scene is beautiful).
It’s difficult to talk about this book without spoiling it, and I think a spoiler would
really spoil the story. So, I’ll just say one last thing that I hope won’t be a spoiler, but might, so be warned. People get angry with authors who won’t let their characters die and see it as a sign of accomplished writing to kill a character. I think, because of that, I see a lot of bad storytelling mistaken for good storytelling if the author tortures or kills the characters. I really hate when people think character abuse is maturity. At the same time, though, I think there is something right about trusting an author more if the author allows unhappiness into the story. Authors are writing to an audience, and I think they should be writing to entertain, so there is value to me in making stories better than life. At the same time, there is truth in sadness, and if a writer can’t look at sadness, she has sacrificed truth to entertainment. Cather balances truth and entertainment in a way that is completely devastating. She loves her characters, and lets every one of them grow as humans grow, with human joys and human tragedies. It is painful and beautiful to watch.
I almost want to read this book again right away, but too much wisdom in one month can’t be good for my health. I’ll take a little break first and watch some reality TV to balance out my wisdom intake. Just, you know, for my health.