by Willa Cather
Our title “lark” is Thea Kronborg, a young girl growing up in Colorado in the late 19th century. Even at a young age her musical talent is obvious. She learns how to play the piano and her ability soon out shines the resources available in her tiny hometown. Thea’s story is told in six sections which chronicle her struggle to become an artist.
We watch as she befriends the community doctor, teaches piano lessons, loses a good friend in an accident, discovers the Mexican community in her town, and more. As she grows up she begins the lifelong battle to find a balance between ambition and family, a desire to succeed and her personal relationships. Her journey is a long one, taking her at times away from her goal or into lonely places to improve her talent.
The message that seems to echo throughout time is that you can have success and glory or you can have a life filled with family and friends. So often the two seem mutually exclusive. The closer Thea got to her dream, the farther she was from the people who loved her most.
When Thea heads to Denver to study music it's a lot like a freshman leaving for college for the first time. They ache for the life they are leaving, but when they return home everything feels different. But in reality she’s the one who has changed, and her experiences are making her see her family in a whole new light. They have completely different in goals and values and she has a hard time reconciling her feelings with this new discovery.
As her priorities shift, she can’t relate to her family in the same way she used to. They have so little in common and a shared childhood can only get you so far. Their intolerance of the Mexican people makes no sense to her and only drives them further apart. I think many people have the same realization when they leave home in those formative years. As you discover more about the world around you and the views of other people, you begin to question the things you took for granted as fact in your youth.
Thea’s talent is both a gift and a curse. Life is almost simpler for those who aren’t endowed with natural abilities that shine so brightly. Less is expected from them and they are able to choose their path with lower expectations.
* This is technically the second novel in the author’s Prairie Trilogy, but each novel works as a standalone.
BOTTOM LINE: Cather’s writing is beautiful and I can’t wait to read more of her work. I didn’t love it quite as much as “O Pioneers!” but Thea’s struggle resonated with me. She learned so much over the years. She had to make difficult decisions about her future. As we grow up we are shaped by our experience and the paths we choose. That still remains true a century after the book was first published.
“There are some things you learn best in calm, and some in storm.”
“People live through such pain only once. Pain comes again—but it finds a tougher surface.”
“Art is only a way of remembering youth. And the older we grow the more precious it seems to us."