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My Antonia (Great Plains trilogy #3)

My Antonia (Great Plains trilogy #3) - Willa Cather, Alyssa Harad My Antonia is the story of two children who move to the Nebraska prairie at the same time in the late 1800s, grow up together, grow apart, and become reacquainted as adults. I read a few chapters from this book in an American literature anthology years ago, and it really captured my interest. What struck me most was the carefree style of living of the Bohemian main character, Antonia. She seems not to be bound by artificial gender or moral barriers that were in place in society at the time. She farms as hard as a man, dances with everyone she can, and feels no shame returning pregnant without the fiance who she'd gone to marry (even though her brother suggests drowning the baby in a rain barrel).

Cather sprinkles numerous anecdotes throughout the story that helps the reader get a more colorful view of the characters in the book. There's the story of the Russians who were kicked out of their town for letting an entire wedding party be devoured by hungry wolves and the story of the man who was so greedy that he killed his wife before he killed himself just so that he could deny her family of any inheritance. Wow. Those don't sound like very cheery anecdotes, do they? I suppose the book is quite harsh in places, but that's a common theme in writing from the time period. Times were harsh.

I'm still not sure if this is based on a true story or not. Cather introduces the story by saying that this is the story that was told to her by an old friend named Jim from Nebraska about a girl they both know named Antonia. Jim supposedly asked Cather to write the novel from the notes he gave to her. But is this introduction a part of the fiction? I can't seem to find the answer anywhere. Cather writes the novel with Jim as the first-person narrator. However, the narrator is almost without personality except when Jim has difficulty forgiving girls when they are attacked by men and when he seems to always leave the girls he loves. What a loser. I wonder if this was a reflection of the true Jim (if such a man exists), a reflection of Cather's view of the men of the time, or a reflection of Cather.

I would have given this book 5 stars except that I think Cather should have left out most of Book II (The Hired Girls) from the novel or should have given it a little more spice than it has. Am I allowed to say that about a classic without getting criticized for my opinion? It's as if Cather lost steam when she was writing that portion of the book. Whereas I breezed through the other portions of the book, this was quite a slog. Despite this small criticism, there are some chapters that are absolutely gorgeous. I love the images from the first chapter of the families moving to Nebraska across the snowy plains. And I also love the final chapters where Jim learns of what has become of Antonia while he's been away and the joy he feels upon meeting her again (along with her eleventybazillion children).

If I do manage to run across any other books by Cather, I'll be sure to snatch them up. This seems to be a book that will forever leave an image behind and become a part of my understanding of American history and culture of yesteryear.