Oh, right . . . 12 books in 12 months: Song of the Lark

Posted by on Wednesday, April 13th, 2011

I fell down a bit with 12 books in 12 months, and now I need to catch up.

I’ve read these:

1.  A Mercy: A Novel by Toni Morrison. Sighed my way through the audiobook version, and felt like I was betraying an idol.

2. Possession: A Romance by A.S. Byatt.  I think I loved it.

3. London Fields by Martin Amis. It blew my mind.

4. The Good Brother by Chris Offutt. It was pretty good.

5. The Song of the Lark by Willa Cather. (The review is below.)

I still need to read these:

1. Wild Decembers by Edna O’Brien.

3. Let Us Now Praise Famous Men by James Agee.  I still need to read this.

3. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad.

4.The Story of the Night by Colm Toibin.

5. Glory by Vladimir Nabokov.

6. Set This House in Order: A Romance of Souls by Matt Ruff.

7. At Swim Two Birds by Flann O’Brien.

8. Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers.

So I have some real work to do. Now, on to Cather.

I am generally a fan of Willa Cather’s books, but this one didn’t hold me quite so tightly.  It has a strong female character, which I love, and Cather’s gorgeous language and elegant descriptions. I adored the first part of the book, which followed Thea through her childhood in Moonstone.  Her relationships with her parents, siblings, and neighbors fascinated me and I really fell for the players.  Cather is so good at painting realistic portrayals, warts and all, and I think she did an excellent job of that in this novel.

I began to feel frustrated once Thea left Moonstone the second time to study music in Chicago–frustrated that her parents let her go so easily, frustrated that she was so gullible.  For me, there are certain subjects I find it hard to be quiet about, and sexual politics come right at the top of that list.  I know Cather was writing in a different time, but it was 1915, not 1815.  She could have addressed Thea’s romantic or sexual life more overtly, but instead I was left feeling like the author hid from it.  The book skirts a strange line around sexuality, and it maddened me.  I felt like Thea either would have been attacked for spending undo amounts of time alone with men, or she would have fought loudly for the freedom to surround herself with whomever she chose.  In the novel, she just . .  does whatever it is that she does, without anyone paying much attention, including the speaker.  I felt like the novel avoided the question of what did and didn’t happen between Thea and Ray or Thea and Otto.  I like the concept of a female protagonist who isn’t just there as a sex object or a saint, but I think it’s strange to ignore that aspect of her life entirely.

I was also uncomfortable about some of the racial and ethnic language and questions in the book.  It stung me that Thea was so open to Spanish Johnny and other people from different backgrounds, but so dismissive of black characters.  I understand that that was common, but it still galls me.  I’m not one to argue in favor of censorship, and I certainly don’t have a rosy or even optimistic view of early 20th century race relations in the US, but I was repeatedly thrown right out of the story by some of Cather’s word choices.

That said, I am glad I read the novel, and I may return to it again later.  So far, it’s my least favorite of Cather’s novels.

Filed in 12 books in 12 months,blather,Books | 4 responses so far

4 Responses to “Oh, right . . . 12 books in 12 months: Song of the Lark”

  1. Carolon 20 Apr 2011 at 11:56 am 1

    I read Possession by A.S. Byatt when it came out. The reviews were great. I can’t remember all the reasons, but I didn’t like it. I wasn’t too sure, so I shared it with my family. We were all of the same mind.

    I guess it seemed contrived. The main character (male) too self centered. It has been many years, but I still recall my disappointment. I guess her other books didn’t have popular appeal, so she wrote one with the goal of attaining popular appeal.


  2. kon 21 Apr 2011 at 9:10 pm 2

    Heartbreaking genius of staggering whatever is so absolutely great. The last third? maybe more, was like fingernails on a blackboard, until the end. Keep going.

    I think I will reread that one over the summer.

  3. bullwinkleon 01 May 2011 at 7:21 pm 3

    I have also fallen. (Oy – and I hear, in the back of my head, that “I can’t get up!”) But I see your list and I have hope. At least I am not alone.

    p.s. re: Heartbreaking Genius – hated it. Well, loved the first bits (2/3rds?) and hated the last. But no one told me it was worth sticking with it till the end.

  4. […] It seems like Lanea enjoyed her book a bit more, though it didn’t hold up to the others she’s read by Willa Cather.  She appreciated Cather’s ability to write strong female characters and to portray the world as it is, warts and all, though she was “uncomfortable about some of the racial and ethnic language and questions in the book.”  Cather’s total avoidance of romance, sex, or sexuality also didn’t ring true in a story that otherwise seems to have been about a young woman’s coming of age.  A good book, but not a perfect one. [review] […]

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