Monday, July 9, 2012

#56 - "Death Comes for the Archbishop" by Willa Cather

How quickly some books seem to go, whilst others drag out forever.  Happily, this was one of the quick ones, my 56th book from Time's list; Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather.  Sure it isn't the longest book at 297 pages, but I'm always a little weary of books from the 1920's.  I find they can be quite dated and as a result, my attention often wanes.

Jean Marie Latour is a French Bishop heading from Ohio to the newly acquired territory of New Mexico, to re-establish the Roman Catholic church in the area after years of neglect and corruption.  He lives in the area for several decades, not only helping the church but also establishing himself as an honored, respected member of the community.

Reading this book, I found myself enjoying it all the way through, as it was both well written and interesting.  However, I found myself a little confused at times, unsure of what was happening.  By the time I had reached the halfway mark it had become apparent what was going on.  Each chapter of this book was its own distinct story, unconnected to the others.  Characters I would meet at one point, would never be heard from again, almost as if the book was only a collection of short stories featuring this French Bishop, instead of a novel following his journey through this new and exotic land.

A little bit of follow-up reading shows this may be the case.  Ms. Cather said she intended the book to read like a Native American legend, duplicating the oral history so prevalent in 19th century New Mexico.  If that is the case, I must say mission accomplished.  Looking back at the book, it almost reads like a transcript from a wake, where people share their favorite stories of the deceased, but don't at any point try to chronicle his life.

It may seem that a book like this would risk being quite boring, or not really having any point.  As I recall, Del Griffith always had a series of 'amusing annecdotes' to tell, but I'd be hesitant to pick up any book he might have penned.  But I suppose through excellent writing and an interesting set of characters, the book never wanes.  It was an enjoyable read, a pleasant diversion if you will, and one that while not over the moon about, I wouldn't hesitate to recommend to anybody.

With this book, Willa Cather joins several other authors who have won Pulitzer Prizes, but had a different book selected for this list.  But unlike the others, her winning-novel, One of Ours was written before 1923 and hence ineligible for inclusion.

While I never would have considered it to be a 'western' in the classic sense, others seem to, as it was named the 7th best 'Western Novel' of the 20th century by the Western Writers of America.  I suppose that means, although unintentionally, it was a fitting read for the week leading up to the Calgary Stampede.

Next up will be Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe.  Chock up another one for books and authors I know nothing about.

And you're right, if there was a Del Griffith book, I'd probably be first in line to pick up a copy.  But you know what I mean!    

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