Monday, August 5, 2013

Troubled Bridge Over Water

It all comes full circle for me with my beloved Willa Cather!  Alexander's Bridge, Cather's first novel, was published in 1912, and it was one of the last of her novels that I have read.  Ironically, I read this book in one sitting just a stone's throw away from a bridge that crosses the great Stanislaus River.  The story's protagonist is Bartley Alexander, an engineer who builds bridges.  Torn between his love for his wife Winifred in Boston and his lover Hilda in London who makes him feel alive and youthful, Alexander must navigate these relationships and becomes increasingly tormented.  Perhaps, given all the weight on his shoulders and his inability to move forward in either direction, life comes crashing down on him, literally, when his newest bridge collapses, despite the description earlier in the book as a man who had shoulders that "looked strong enough in themselves to support a span of any one of his ten great bridges...."  Perhaps some heavy handed metaphor here, but for a first novel, it still showed signs of Cather's greatness.  One of my favorite descriptions in the book is how Cather writes of how Winifred's face suggested "stormy possibilities."  One of her better shorter works, but still not comparable to the wonderful My Antonia.

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