Tuesday 14 January 2020

Lucy Gayheart

I've just read Lucy Gayheart, Willa Cather's penultimate novel, and am in the state of awestruck wonder that Cather's novels almost always leave me in. How does she do it, achieving such effects, building such depths of emotion and meaning under such plain words, in such simple, slight structures? Lucy Gayheart, which is little more than novella length, is pared down even more than most. Divided into three parts, it tells the tale of the eponymous heroine, a free-spirited girl who lives up to her name and who chafes against the restrictions of small-town life, longing for the city, for great things and heroic spirits. And she finds her hero when her musical abilities take her to Chicago, and she falls head over heels in love with a famous singer, Clement Sebastian – but fate has something sudden and shocking up its sleeve, and she retreats, broken, to the small town from which she set out with such high hopes and exalted dreams.
  It's hard to say much more about Lucy Gayheart without the need for massive spoiler alerts, but Part Two picks up the story with Lucy gradually recovering and once again relishing the prospect of escape to the city. But once again her hopes are cruelly dashed. Part Three of the novel  – which no one but Cather would even have thought of writing – is perhaps the most remarkable, picking up the story 25 years on, and bringing Lucy's small-town suitor, the very eligible Harry Gordon, to the fore, showing him for a man more complicated and more sensitive than he seems, and, through his eyes, revisiting the story of Lucy Gayheart and shining a subtly revealing new light on it. The ending – like many other moments of the novel – I found intensely moving. Willa Cather is truly a miracle worker – and I've just realised that now I have only one of her novels (One of Ours) left to read. What am I going to do? Apart from reading them all again...