Can someone please hook me up to a catheter of Willa Cather? Such a great introduction with this slender novel of Alexandra Bergson’s conquering the prairie of Nebraska. We begin in tough times, deep winter and a sick father who tells his sons to pay attention to their sister (Alexandra) when he’s gone. She manages the farm in his absence, going through lean years and after investigating and talking to other farmers, buying up as much land as she can to her brothers’ dismay. Her childhood friend Carl’s family goes bust, sells her their farm as they flee for Chicago for work (he becomes an engraver). Everything booms wonderfully under her guidance, she makes her brothers rich and her own success far overwhelms theirs. She sends younger brother Emile off to college, and he eventually returns a polished man, desperately in love with their married neighbor, Marie. Carl comes back and stays a month, Alexandra suffers at the hands of her brothers who thinks it looks improper. After a tongue lashing by them, Carl flees to prove his fortune, to return a few years later to comfort Alexandra in her mourning of Emile’s death (shot with Marie by her husband). Beautiful depictions of the prairie, along with a mournful look at city life described by Carl:
When one of us dies, they scarcely know where to bury him. Our landlady and the delicatessen man are our mourners, and we leave nothing behind us but a frock-coat and a fiddle, or an easel, or a typewriter, or whatever tool we got our living by. All we have ever managed to do is to pay our rent, the exorbitant rent that one has to pay for a few square feet of space near the heart of things. We have no house, no place, no people of our own. We live in the streets, in the parks, in the theaters. We sit in restaurants and concert halls and look about the hundreds of our own kind and shudder.