October 18, 2016

'Death Comes For The Archbishop' compelling with amazing style

POINT RICHMOND, California - The novel Death Comes For The Archbishop came my way via a New York amiga, Nebraska-raised.

It was one of two books she pushed across the table to me while sat in a Burdett, NY bistro, talking about my planned cross-country, Travels with Charley (minus Charley) trip.

I cracked the book just once, sitting on the shore of the Platte River in eastern Nebraska, where a butterfly landed on my shoulder and sat as if it were reading the book with me. Anyone who has ever read much Carlos Castaneda knows exactly how much that freaked me out.

But as the Butterfly and I read for just a few minutes, I realized that Death Comes For The Archbishop was a book I wanted to read carefully, thoughtfully, not trying to sandwich the rich language in during short stops as I was spinning Michelin tires across the United States, taking the nation's pulse.

It proved to be a good call.

Death Comes For The Archbishop is one of Willa Cather's classics originally published in 1927. If Willa Cather's name is familiar, it's likely because you might have read one of her other novels, My Antonia. I confess that it was a required book in some high school class of mine. But I doubt I read much of it.

This novel is pretty much the antithesis of the kind of books I snatch off the bookshelves at the public library. It's slow-paced, full of history, full of rich detail that includes sight, smell, taste, sound and cultural critique.

It's no Jack Reacher novel.
Willa Cather

And it's fabulous.

That slow-paced history and detail is weaved into a compelling tale of friendship, the growth of the West in the U.S., and the influence of the Catholic Church in a growing nation. And it's done in a writing style that I can only describe as dreamy. It's the kind of writing that wraps itself around you so firmly the rest of the world slips into the background.

It is one of those books you never want to end - particularly given where it's headed as stated in the novel's title.

Death Comes For The Archbishop is recommended reading. And if I get up the courage to tackle My Antonia - many decades past when I first spied it - I think it will be good reading, too.

Thanks for passing it to me, Wrexie.

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