2011 Book #33: O Pioneers!

o_pioneers.jpegI don’t really have much to say about O Pioneers! I generally enjoyed it, but it’s entirely forgettable. When I was in college, I reluctantly read My Antonia, also by Willa Cather, and thoroughly enjoyed it though I expected to hate it. O Pioneers! is the same type of novel – you know, pioneers and things, and I thought I’d like it more than I did.

I only finished reading it yesterday, and I’ve forgotten most of it. It’s about a family of (what?) pioneers, the Bergsons, in the Great Plains, trying to survive and add land to their farm. The father dies and leaves his land to his two sons and one daughter, and they quibble about what happens to it. Then, there’s a Steinbeck-type tragedy (a la Of Mice and Men or The Grapes of Wrath), and, as in another Steinbeck trend, Life Goes On. That’s about it. It’s short.

Again, I liked it well enough, but I think O Pioneers! might go into the Wait.-I-Read-That? pile with Franny and Zooey and other novels I’ve totally forgotten I’ve read. If you’re trying to choose between this one and My Antonia, go with the latter. I need to read that one again.

In Cather’s defense, there are lots of DeLillo-ish quotes that make me want to work on the DeLillo Project again and expand it.

The great fact was the land itself, which seemed to overwhelm the little beginnings of human society that struggled in its sombre wastes. It was from facing this vast hardness that the boy’s mouth had become so bitter; because he felt that men were too weak to make any mark here, that the land wanted to be let alone, to preserve its own fierce strength, its peculiar, savage kind of beauty, its uninterrupted mournfulness.

A pioneer should have imagination, should be able to enjoy the idea of things more than the things themselves.

We’ve liked the same things and we’ve liked them together, without anybody else knowing.

It fortified her to reflect upon the great operations of nature, and when she thought of the law that lay behind them, she felt a sense of personal security.

This kind of language is what I like best about O Pioneers!

 Everything is vast and wild and mysterious because you're ten years old and America is wide as all the world and twice as invincible.

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