Wednesday, August 15, 2012
One of Ours by Willa Cather
Willa Cather's novels are my definition of literary comfort food. Having been a while since I'd read one of her novels for the first time, (the last few have been rereads,) I'd forgotten what a wonderful experience it is. True to form, the characters and setting were vivid and the writing easy to appreciate. In each book of Cather's that I've read, she uses character sketches as a tool to help the reader get a wonderful sense of the nuances in each personality. She's so adept at this that it never gets old. In just a few sentences, we learn an incredible amount about four different people.
Claude knew, and everybody else knew, seemingly, that there was something wrong with him. He had been unable to conceal his discontent. Mr. Wheeler was afraid he was one of those visionary fellows who make unnecessary difficulties for themselves and other people. Mrs. Wheeler thought the trouble with her son was that he had not yet found his Saviour. Bayliss was convinced that his brother was a moral rebel, that behind his reticence and his guarded manner he concealed the most dangerous opinions.
If there is such a thing as a peaceful book about war, One of Ours is it exactly. Published in 1922, only a few years after the Great War ended, this book seems to put the senseless loss into perspective in some ways. The story follows the life of Claude, an idealistic young man, and shows how he found purpose in his life. In a time when so many things were changing, (the book also addresses Prohibition, woman's role in society, transportation, and the Spanish Influenza to name a few,) such a massive loss of youth must have been impossible to understand. Claude's story seeks to bring healing and soothe the heart. It isn't a perfect novel—it's a bit too sentimental for that—but it's easy for me to see why it won the Pulitzer when it did.
She told off on her fingers the many ingredients, but he believed there were things she did not name: the fragrance of old friendships, the glow of early memories, belief in wonder-working rhymes and songs. Surely these were fine things to put into little cakes!
Coincidentally, I picked this book up with perfect timing. I'd just finished reading about Prohibition, and was longing for some prose about WWI, so it was a perfect tie-in. This was the 5th book of Willa Cather's that I've read this year—marking completion of my 2012 goal in that regard—but I certainly haven't tired of her yet. I've now read the first 8 of her 19 published works, and I'm greatly looking forward to the stories to come.