One Of Ours
- Little, Brown Book Group
- Publication Date:
- 07 December 2006
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Another novel that shows the "American Story" of the early Twentieth Century, One of Ours is one of the most disturbing war account novels I have read. The American Dream collides with the horrors of modern warfare with beautiful flashes of poetic insight, tales and descriptions of death, suffering, innocence lost. It is the structure that really makes this a powerful novel-- it begins and continues for well over the first half as not a war novel, but in the way that popular novels of the time begin, with the trials and petty tribulations of a young boy growing up in a farming community. He is a dreamer, a thinker. His world view is so limited that he doesn't know the source of his discontentment. He goes on with his life, and the pain I felt as a reader when he had to give up his schooling to help his family farm business. He takes a path familair to many -- marriage leading into a slowing building sense of hopelessness, that his life would just continue on autpilot. So the main character is a man with a sense of the greater held back by his mediocre situation.The war comes into the book suddenly, and by joining it Claude is able to see the world and meet other people he can relate to. This is the most beautiful and insightful part of the novel, because Claude is able to have the insights about what is possible and beautiful in the world. It took war for him to feel alive.His death, not unexpected, is cathartic because so much pain, anxiety, loss, destruction is described. The hero is dead; the anxious suspense is over. The narrator and Claude's mother echo the sense that perhaps he was better off dying while he still had his ideals of nations and beauty, for the ones who survived met with horrible disillusionment, depression, and many killed themselves. Virginia Woolf deals with the same theme in two of her novels, Jacob's Room and Mrs. Dalloway.Somewher in the book is a line that maybe these men had to die and all of this destruction had to happen to awaken America and the world to new ideas. An interesting commentary given all the history and warfare that have followed WWI,what was supposed to be "the war to end all wars." The only thing ended seems to be the belief that war could be ended, at least that violence could end violence. The 60s flower children /hippie movement felt that happy thoughts and well-meaning people focusing on peace could do it, but many of them became just as dillusioned as the characters in this novel, who were trying to achieve the same goal with weapons.
This one is my favorite Willa Cather novel. A real departure for her, she took a lot of criticism for writing about war when she had never seen it herself. Amazing how men seem to think they can write female characters without experience, but Cather for some reason cannot write a male character. Hmmm. Anyway, a very well drawn character and a very moving plot.
Willa Cather's One of Ours takes us again to the Midwest. It is the story of Claude Wheeler, the son of a wealthy farmer in Nebraska who seeks desperately to find his place in the world. He attempts to go off to school, an undertaking that his family sees as a temporary distraction while Claude is waiting to take over the family farm but what he sees as an opportunity to escape to a more meaningful life. He does come back to the farm when he is needed and attempts to settle down, builds a house, and marries a girl because that is what he is expected to do. All the while, his soul longs to be free to find new things. When Claude's wife goes to China to take care of her invalid missionary sister, he sees his opportunity to break free by joining the army and heading into World War I.Warning: spoilers in this paragraph.Claude truly finds the freedom and happiness he was seeking in his new experiences - ironic because he had entered a violently bloody war and saw things that would torment others for years to come. In the end, Claude dies, rather suddenly, in a battle.I found this book a very interesting read - not only for the content, but for the style of writing. Instead of giving the story from the perspective of one character or no character, Cather seamlessly shifts from one character's point of view to another - sometimes from one paragraph to the next. One feels as though they are floating from character to character instead of remaining fixed behind the eyes of one person or remaining permanently outside of all character. The shift doesn't happen frequently, but just enough to give a complete picture of the story.Spoiler again:Something that struck me in the book that I had never considered was the fact that after Claude died and his family had received the news his mother still received letters from him for several weeks because of the time it took for soldiers' letters to reach home from the front. I can't even imagine being a family member and experiencing that..I know this is a long post, but this book really made me think about all kinds of different things. That doesn't always happen, so I thought I should write it out when I could.
One of Ours is a Pulitzer Prize winner; unfortunately it's not Cather's best work. There's nothing really wrong with it - I enjoyed seeing WWII through the eyes of someone writing immediately following it - but it's slightly flat and slow moving.
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