Book review: O Pioneers! by Willa Cather

I’d taken a break from fiction (not intentionally, never intentionally) for a few months, and chose this title at random to try to ease myself back into the habit of audio books.

I was so happy with my choice for 90% of the book. The prose and narration are beautiful in their simplicity, perfect for listening while commuting. I also loved the story itself, which began with the rescue of a kitten and continued with the focus on a young woman’s competency with farm management and economics, her dying father’s faith in her, her brothers’ submission to her brains, and it all paying off.

The story had big time jumps and new characters introduced, with beautiful cultural portraits of these immigrant and first-generation farmers, yet it remained interesting and lively, until it reached a colossal tragedy towards which the suspense had been building.

After this point, I experienced a terrible betrayal as the protagonist, the wonderfully intelligent and good-tempered Alexandra for whom I had been rooting for all along, took the side of the murderous piece-of-shit neighbor over her murdered friend and her beloved youngest brother. She actually thought adultery was a worse crime than murder and that the scumbag husband wasn’t really to blame for murdering his wife and the man she was cuddling (not even having sex!) under a tree. Alexandra would even work tirelessly for his pardon, despite how he only got ten years for taking two lives!

Important reminder that that shitty, toxic argument does men a huge disservice as well. It’s saying that men “just can’t help themselves” and one must make allowances accordingly, always pamper and coddle them.

But it really broke my heart to listen to Alexandra lay all the blame on her murdered friend’s joyful spirit, musing that she had loved too much and caused all this evil. No, no, no, no, no.

What to do with books like this, that draw you in so effectively and then betray you in such a manner? All I can do is articulate why I know this is wrong, what I have learned and what I want the world to learn so that no one (in fiction or real life) forms these sorts of terribly harmful conclusions again.

At least the book did end on the note I yearned for, with Alexandra finally getting the man she loved despite her surviving brothers’ bullshit, and there was even a conversation where he tried (with some success) to talk her out of laying all the blame on her friend.

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