Willa Cather is one of the great American story tellers, in the true old fashioned style of a solid narrative, with fully formed characters, in believable social settings and a plot. If you want a fireside novel you could do so much worse than any one of her ‘great’ works. Published in 1915 “The Song of the Lark” sits in the middle of her Plains Trilogy with “O Pioneers” and “My Antonia” to either side.
Thea Kronborg, born and raised a farm girl in Moonstone, Colorado, a day’s journey from Denver, is seen by her siblings as odd: she doesn’t join in their games and she has no interest in farm matters. She loves to sing in the church choir and play piano when she can. She moves quickly through a succession of tutors, of ever greater renown; she is admired by a railway worker, a few years older than herself, who arranges for her to get enough money to travel to Chicago where she really can start to learn about music. It is there that her voice is recognised for the exceptional gift that it is and her years of training, auditioning and living hand to mouth in cold water flats begins.
The story goes on, she meets a wealthy young man – who provides a devastatingly beautiful interlude in the cliff dwellings of Panther Canyon, Arizona (hence the wonderful Angel Adams photograph on the cover) – travels to Germany to learn opera…
As always with Cather, when she is on form, the quality of the writing is of the highest order of its type, language is beautiful and economically used to create vivid scenes. There’s no linguistic trickery, no plot twists, as a novel it’s as straightforward and wholesome as the folk back home in Moonstone.