I’m doing that thing again where I read all the books by my favorite author. It’s okay, though, I really like being an expert in my favorites. And Willa Cather is definitely a new favorite. Now that I’ve read her most famous stuff, I’m hoping to read all her less known novels.
A Lost Lady is about the enigmatic but charismatic Marian Forrester, a beautiful woman married to a much older man and living in the somewhat remote railroad town of Sweet Water. As a child Niel Herbert falls under her spell and becomes a confidant and friend as he grows into a man. It is through his eyes that we see the rise and fall of Mrs. Forrester throughout the town’s history. She seems like the glue holding her husband together, but through hardships and tragedy, she reveals a shocking vulnerability beyond the brilliant surface.
This story actually reminds me a LOT of Truman Capote’s novella Breakfast at Tiffany’s (not the film–as much as I like the film, apart from Mickey Rooney’s cringe-worthy racist character, it’s quite different and more melancholy than the original). The woman is a beautiful, brilliant character who ultimately finds herself unmoored by the hazards of real life and the man who sort of worships her comes to realize that he is worshipping an image, not a person.
Cather is a talented novelist, and her prose is sharp, never too sparing (cough cough HEMINGWAY) and never too florid and dense (FAULKNER). She is an elegant writer, but she takes us out of the elite coasts and into the forgotten West, without resorting to cowboy tropes and Wild West romances. I’m definitely excited to read more!