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O Pioneers!

I listened to O Pioneers! on my walks with the dog this last week and thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s not as rich a story as My Ántonia—everything seems simplified, though in a good way. The traction that American writers have gotten from of THE LAND is really quite astounding, and O Pioneers! is a fair example of it. Take this, from the end:

I’ve lived here a long time. There is great peace here, Carl, and freedom…. I thought when I came out of that prison, where poor Frank is, that I should never feel free again. But I do, here.” Alexandra took a deep breath and looked off into the red west.

“You belong to the land,” Carl murmured, “as you have always said. Now more than ever.”

“Yes, now more than ever. You remember what you once said about the graveyard, and the old story writing itself over? Only it is we who write it, with the best we have.”

They paused on the last ridge of the pasture, overlooking the house and the windmill and the stables that marked the site of John Bergson’s homestead. On every side the brown waves of the earth rolled away to meet the sky.

“Lou and Oscar can’t see those things,” said Alexandra suddenly. “Suppose I do will my land to their children, what difference will that make? The land belongs to the future, Carl; that’s the way it seems to me. How many of the names on the county clerk’s plat will be there in fifty years? I might as well try to will the sunset over there to my brother’s children. We come and go, but the land is always here. And the people who love it and understand it are the people who own it—for a little while.”

Our Good Earth, by Thomas Hart Benton

Carl looked at her wonderingly. She was still gazing into the west, and in her face there was that exalted serenity that sometimes came to her at moments of deep feeling. The level rays of the sinking sun shone in her clear eyes.

Of course, such clear eyes only exist in novels, but what pretty pictures they are! By the time Cather wrote the novel, she was already an accomplished writer and had left Nebraska long behind—her own attachment to THE LAND was minimal. But regionalism is only like realism, just as realism is only like reality….

But it is late and I am rambling. It is a good book, but just as important is this: the reader of the audiobook, “rachelellen,” is quite good. I recommend listening for her lyrical performance. If you support Librivox in no other way, at least do its readers the honor of a listen.