Willa grew up a small town girl in Red Cloud, Nebraska back in the 188090s. Brilliant kid, she got into college, studied journalism, went into the newspaper biz, edited magazines, got big, met lots of influential and rich people, ended up living with her girlfriend in a swank flat on Park Avenue.
Along the way she wrote one of the five great American novels, My Antonia. which I, like nearly everyone else who's read it voluntarily, dearly love and admire greatly. My Antonia is set in the wild young Nebraska she grew up in. Much of this book is set among the wealthy matrons of New York City and theri ilk. They often remind me of the Marx Brothers' foil Margaret Dumont. I just don't dig it.
The few stories that are set back home are lovely, the restout with you.
While Cather is an outstanding descriptive writer, there were no happy endings or reasons for hope in these stories. They could all be summarized thusly, "life is hard, period." I do feel she has interesting insight into human nature. I'm glad I read this book. I'm glad it's over.
But as settles down she manages to say less and create more at the same time, and she succeeds in making it seem effortless. Each one is filled with tender and real characters, of whom some you are left wanting for a more complete story, while others have a poignant finality to them that is perfect for the short story form.
Considering how many popular novels she had, maybe this a selection more for the completists or lit majors, but HL Mencken's glowing praise for the short works she published sporadically throughout her career really made me feel like I would be missing out on something if I didn't dig some of them up, and that cranky old bastard was right, it is worth the trouble. The greatest gift Ms. Cather had was in making her characters knowable. When reading a story, you felt that you know the people she wrote about. You could sit down for a cup of coffee with them, like you have known them forever.
'Eric Hermannson's Soul' is about the religion and love of life out on the prairie. Eric 'gets religion' then meets a woman who shows him that life could be enjoyed.
'The Sculptor's Funeral' is set in his parent's home. He had left home to get his education out East and became successful and happy. One of his students is in attendance. The local community pillars are also there. The talk turns to how the sculptor treated his folks, embarrassingly bad. Another fellow from the town, a lawyer, is there as well and sets them all straight.
'A Wagner Matinee' has his aunt coming to Boston for a few days to settle an inheritance. He shows her around and she ends up crying for joy. You sort of wonder if she regrets her choices made many years ago.
'Paul's Case – A Study in Temperament' is a high school kid suffering from angst. He just can not get past that he can not have an exciting, fun filled life.
'The Enchanted Bluff'' is in New Mexico. A group of high school boys hanging out on a sand bar during the summer regale each other with stories and plans for the future. One of them tells of this place in New Mexico.
'The Bohemian Girl' is the daughter of the local barkeeper. She has married well and her brotherinlaw, the prodigal son, sort of, has come to visit.
'Uncle Valentine (Adagio non troppo)' lived next door to the narrator when she was growing up. He was a composer who married badly, lived in France, etc and got away from all that. He has come home and he and the little girl's family are close. The time he is there is wonderful, in fact, later on, you learn that it is referred to as 'the golden year.'
'Neighbour Rosicky' is a gentle farmer who has grown old. His family is one of the few that are truly happy. His wife and children are the joy of his life. He has known city life and never thinks it is worthy of a second thought if there is a choice. He is proud that he has given his children that choice.
'Old Mrs. Harris' is the mother who takes care of her daughter's family like a maid or cook or nanny. There are trials and tribulations to be dealt with and she does. She is from an old Southern welltodo family, with certain social standards and ways.
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The Sculptor's Funeral is a bitter story about how an artist is misunderstood, disrespected, and despised in his home town.
Neighbor Rosicky is a praise song to the prairie and the settlers who loved it and struggled to make it their home.
This is now one of my favorite collections of short stories. I enjoyed Cather's novels, but the short stories blew me away (especially Eric Hermannson's Soul and Neighbor Rosicky). I found the simplicity of the stories to be beautifulbut powerful in combination with the rich descriptions of scenery and character. She did an amazing job of depicting various types of strength and happiness. Beautiful. Readability 6. Rating 6. A fairly wide selection of short works. As such, it is not surprising that there were some I liked more than others. The city stories tended to be just depressing, as did many of them overall. But her writing is so convincing that even those were bearable, and other stories, such as "Neighbor Rosicky" and "The Bohemian Girl" left some of the "life sucks" attitude behind and let some magic shine through.