Here’s a review of one of my all-time favorite reads that I wrote on Amazon.com back in 2001. A classic American author and story, beautifully written. If you’ve never tried Willa Cather, this is definitely a very good place to start.
When I Fell In Love With Willa. (Amazon Review July 23, 2001)
Rarely, if ever, do books captivate me on such a level as this one, and even more rarely do I find such a strong connection between a fictional character and myself. That is what I discovered in the pages of Song of the Lark.
In preparing to post this review, I saw the title of another, which I believe read Hideously Dull and Boring, or something to that effect. This story, my first Willa Cather, was nothing of the sort.
Within the pages of this book a reader finds passion, love, art, beauty, despair, tragedy, disgust, longing, and triumph. Not bad for 9.95 in this day and age.
Thea Kronborg, the heroine of the story, is from very earliest meeting somewhat different from the rest of her family, and the other citizens of Moonstone, Colorado. She is one of several children, but is seen as ‘something different, something special’ by Howard Archie, the town doctor. He becomes her confidant, her friend, and patron as Thea rises from midwestern girl to Metropolitan Opera headliner.
Through her training and triumph, Thea discovers what is sorely lacking in others in her profession….passion, committment, and integrity. She bemoans the success of other singers, as merely ‘crowd pleasing’ rather that technically superior, or even correct. She rails at the off-pitch, lifeless tones of some of the more popular of her contemporaries, thinking them hideous and beastly, and severely lacking in talent.
Thea’s life starts in a small Colorado town, where she experiences her first ‘love’, and her first tragedy when she loses that love. But as she grows, as a singer, and as a woman, Thea realizes, through a series of highs and lows, that her one true love is the pursuit of her passion, her singing. She sacrifices all for that passion, and never seems to regret it as she reaches her reward.
Although I admired many traits in this character, the one that stands out most to me is her disdain at others for accepting mediocrity in themselves. Thea despairs when others sell out for simple recognition, and accept it in lieu of striving for artistic integrity. As a performer, this quality in her touched me personally, from having shared stages with many performers stealing scences, upstaging, oversinging, all for personal gain, whether it befit their charater or not. Integrity is a quality sorely lacking in so many these days, that to find another being, fictional or real, so disgusted with the lack of it, was truly a treat.
Willa Cather draws from her own childhood to illustrate life in a small midwestern town accurately, and makes liberal mention of many well-known operas in Thea’s rise to fame. This is a perfect gem of a novel, with a very believable story of a woman’s passion realized in her art. There are no lucky breaks, no right place at the right time, Thea works for everything she gains, one of the greatest rewards of all.