Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Alexander's Bridge by Willa Cather

With Alexander's Bridge, Willa Cather's published works made another jump in length: from poetry to short stories, and now to a short novel.  In many ways, this short novel contained less of her characteristic insight-into-people-and-places than was displayed in the previously published collection of short stories: The Troll Garden.  It was almost as if this was an exercise at extending the number of pages used, rather than a natural growth of feeling.  At the same time, however, it is still the inner-workings and driving-force of life that command her attention, and thus mine.

It is the story of Bartley Alexander, a renowned engineer and bridge builder, who happens to be one of those people who seems to be kissed by good fortune.  His career is incredibly successful, he marries a rich girl (who he also happens to be in love with), and to top it all off, he gets to travel between Boston and London on a regular basis.  What's not to love?  His somewhat idyllic life begins to unravel, however, when he becomes reacquainted with a former flame.

I was hoping to find something with a little more depth of feeling in it, honestly.  Not that this wasn't an interesting character study, just that it didn't seem to hold Cather's full sense of wonder and heartbreak--as if she was disenchanted with the story: a feeling which rubs off on the reader.  The premise is a good one, I just wish it had been more fully developed.  I'd recommend for someone familiar with Cather in the mood for a novella: sort of Classic Lite.  However, if you are trying to decide which book of hers should be your first, don't start here, as you won't get the proper feeling for her writing.  Instead, find one of the short stories I mentioned in The Troll Garden for a taster, or move into one of her later novels for something with more depth.

(Coming soon: a review of her 4th published work: O Pioneers!)

Title: Alexander's Bridge
Author: Willa Cather
Pages: 144
Published: 2010 Vintage Classics (orig. 1912)
Read for: personal challenge
My Rating: 3.5 stars


  1. I've never read any Willa Cather. It sounds like this wouldn't be the best place to start?

  2. It's a nice story, but really doesn't give you a sense of what Willa Cather is all about. So far, my vote is with O Pioneers! for a good place to start.

    Of course, it is very American/Immigrant, which always makes me curious as to how it translates to a non-American reader. I feel like the themes would be universal, but then you never know. :)

  3. I've only read My Antonia, but got curious about her other works. Everyone actually tells me to move on to O Pioneers next - maybe because it's the closest to My Antonia in setting?

    Looking forward to your thought on it!

  4. Alex, I haven't read any of her novels that were published after My Antonia, but I love O Pioneers--would absolutely recommend it. I am looking forward to reading some of her other works, to see how they compare.


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