Tuesday, September 11, 2012

One of Ours by Willa Cather

3 stars - worth reading
1923 Pulitzer Prize

I'm not sure whether I liked this book or not. 

Since I knew I was going to read it as part of my Pulitzer Prize journey, I dove in without subjecting myself to any hint as to its contents.

After recently reading several books set in New York City, I was pleased that the action in this novel takes place (at least in the first half) on a farm in Nebraska. The entire book focuses on just a few years immediately before and during World War I.

The main character is Claude Wheeler, a young man in his early 20's (a time of life that seems to be the focus of most of the early Pulitzer winners). 

One of the distracting things about the writing is that even though the majority of the action is centered around Claude, I never felt that I had a real connection to what he was thinking and how he was motivated. The writing was in the third person which allowed the author to have a few brief scenes without the main character, but I found these odd and frustrating as they were not used to develop any of the minor players beyond stiff cut-outs. Perhaps that was by design as young adulthood is certainly a self absorbed age. 

For the first half of the book, one observes Claude as his world folds in around him and he reluctantly picks up the lifestyle of farming which seems his destiny. 

Then World War I happens. Claude sees a means of escape from the shackles of farming and an unfortunate marriage and enlists. 

Now things get very odd. Because as much as I drifted around the perimeter of true engagement with the book during the first half, I found myself flung almost completely out of it during the second half. I was thinking, "Well, what the heck is going on here?"

No, it wasn't that the writing style was jumbled and the descriptions of scenes remained sound, but I was all at sixes and sevens trying to latch back on to the story. Maybe that was the intent of the author. Who knows? 

As a side note, the edition I obtained from the library was a pristine paperback. Nary a coffee stain, bent page, or crack in the spine. In fact the library stamp indicated that it had been purchased by the library friends in February of this year. I assume from all of those clues that it was on some reading list someplace and library was stocking up because all of the prior Pulitzers I have read have arrived with the wonderful worn smell and softened pages of books that have journeyed through many hands.

At least the next borrower will know that somebody read the book. I am returning it with some chicken parmesan stains on page 214, a dented spine, and stray dog hairs nestled in the binding.


  1. Given that the only Willa Cather book I read was 'My Antonia' (another book about someone remiscing on Nebraska and a girl who runs off with and subsequently gets dumped by someone else while the narrator is off at college, and then, erm... I don't remember... It was another summer reading book from high school, lo those many decades ago), I can't say that I'd be rushing out to read another one. However, the chicken parmesan stains and the dog hair could make the book more exciting than the original. Just saying... ;-)

    -Dr. Liz, who is waiting for a patient to be prepped so I can go do my thing...

  2. I read part of My Antonia in high school, and I wasn't terribly captivated by it, either. I remember feeling like some part of the story was elusive and I just wasn't quite grasping it. I remember sticking with it longer than I wanted to because it was supposed to be very mature and worldly literature, but it didn't hold my interest.

  3. I pulled up a list of Pulitzer winners and was appalled at how few I 'd read.

  4. I don't know if I'll read this or not. Right now, I'm reading another Nero Wolfe book, which is always both entertaining and vocabulary enhancing. I still have one or 2 books left from my April book sales, and about 250 books in my Kindle (having paid a grand total of $6.22 for all of them). I'll look for those you recommend more highly, I think.

    (And I can ship you a Nero Wolfe to borrow, if you get tired of Pulitzer Prize winning, "great" literature, and just want a little fun.)

  5. I've never heard of this book, though I have read part of "My Antonia." My mom asked me to read it to her during her last days as she had heard that it was a good book, and she was to sick to read. I couldn't really get into it, either, and then she passed away, so I never finished it.

    I've been reading Brock and Bodie Thoene books lately, and just finished reading a bunch of books by Karen Kingsbury. All of them from these two authors have been really great!

  6. Keep the reviews coming, N....I am really enjoying them. You are going to have a great collection in due course - and a really worthy blog because of it. Thank you for introducing me to books that I'm not familiar with. Even if I don't read them, I still enjoy reading your thoughts..thank you.
    Lotsaluv, c

  7. Willa Cather was a taste I never quite acquired, either. Perhaps it's time to give her another chance. I probably still have a copy of Death Comes for the Archbishop somewhere around the house that I never got around to reading. It's interesting how tastes in books and movies have changed over the decades, as shown by the books and movies picked for Pulitzers and Academy Awards. Like the rest of us, I guess, some stand the test of time better than others.