I’m a sap for this whole genre, historical fiction specifically about the great American expansion and the romatic themes of the movement out west. These authors write powerfully and simply. Louis L’Amour, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Ralph Moody, Willa Cather (aren’t their names perfect?) told stories that are comfortable but nuanced, with memes that speak to my inner adventurer and homebody. Here’s what it is. These books are like literary hot chocolate. Rich, multifaceted but don’t take themselves to seriously. They are familiar but they wake us up to something a bit beyond ourselves, like hot chocolate next to an iced over window before the sun has really come up. They are quintessentially American, and I feel like I walk away a better person for having read them.
I loved this book. I liked that it was the classic coming of age story but that wasn’t the point. I loved the descriptions of farm life vs. town life and the vivid musings on nature. Oh, as an aside; a line that made me put down the book and just sit for a minute was at the part where Jim’s grandfather was praying. He prayed for all those who lived in the big cities whose struggle for survival was so much harder than their own out on the prairie. Wow. Antonia was really interesting to me. The interest didn’t stem from being able to relate to her, but feeling like she was a girl/woman worth being friends with. I would like to have dinner in her kitchen surrounded by her gaggle of kids and bemused husband. I think the thing I loved most about her character was that she didn’t excel at the roles she was given. Rather she gravitated towards roles that suited her and that she loved and thus excelled naturally. She also worked hard and was driven…qualities that I wish I had more of. Jim was interesting also, because while it was told from his perspective he never felt as opaque and real as the rest of the people he described for us. I liked him. I liked seeing the man he grew into. Maybe I’m conditioned by modern novels where first person (especially present tense) is used to trap you in the protagonist’s head so completely that everyone else seems lesser somehow (The Hunger Games, for example). Jim tells the story, but mostly tells it as a series of exernal events, instead of this happened to me and this is what I thought and did and me and me and I…etc. Overall it made me happy to revisit this time period when life was hard but straightforward. Also I loved that Jim studyed “Georgics,” I really should read it, being an aspiring farmer and all.