Just a little tedious after the joy of My Antonia, Song of the Lark is a meld of Willa Cather’s childhood and the career of Olive Fremstad. I am guilty of skipping Cather’s second novel, O Pioneers, because this book intrigued the opera lover in me, although I am no musician. I adore Verdi, Puccini and all the Bel Canto composers but have little knowledge of the German operas. That doesn't hold you back much in the beginning but at the end of the book when the characters get much deeper into the language and the music, you might be a little lost.
Thea is the eldest daughter of the local minister in late 19th century Colorado. She assumes the duties of big sister as expected of her. She plays and sings at church but she senses there’s a bigger world waiting for her. Her music teacher gives her the basic skills and theory of music, recognizes her talent and, more importantly, his inability to develop it. The Mexican families, and especially Spanish Johnny, are the dear friends who really teach her to find the soul of a song. It will take Dr. Archie, Ray Kennedy and a local tragedy to propel Thea on the first step of her quest to the remarkable world of Grand Opera. The journey is long and a little overly detailed for my blood, but sometimes the tedium of reading illustrates more fully the tedium of the life being led
Cather is so good at depicting young girls who have the strength to become so much more than society has in store for them. Certainly, her own youth points the way for them. One thing they all have in common is a mentor as well as an outside force that engages the train of events that will lead them to their fate. What her characters haven't quite had the nerve to verbalize is picked up by an unlikely character or, in Thea's case, the local doctor and the railway brakeman. It doesn't matter who helps, if only someone does. Don't hold your breath waiting for your own fairy godmother though; it happens in books a whole lot more than in real life. If you're a woman, you're on your own! Make your own destiny.