Saturday, December 06, 2008

The Curlew's Cry

I wouldn't have read Mildred Walker's The Curlew's Cry if I hadn't gone to Omaha. (Like Chekhov's Three Sisters, we're always chanting, "If only we could get to Omaha.") It was a curiosity I spotted in a bookstore, and because I'm a sucker for university presses (Bison Press: I decided to take a chance.

I have such a passion for this book that I don't know if I can convey it.

Mildred Walker is a powerful writer. Set in Montana, where she lived from 1933 to 1955, The Curlew's Cry is the story of Pam Lacy, a passionate, independent young woman whose coquettish friend woos her boyfriend away and almost spoils her life. Confused and on the rebound, Pam makes a hasty marriage to the son of a wealthy businessman in Buffalo who is a director of the Rocky Mountain Cattle Company. (The company ruined her father, a rancher, when it refused to back up his loan from a bank which changed hands). And in a sense the company also ruined Pam through her marriage to the unimaginative Alan. The marriage is mechanical and disastrous from the start. All Pam's loyalties are to her father and the landscape of the West, but when she speaks of her beloved Montana, the Easterners disparage it. She returns to Montana and divorces her husband (who cannot understand it) and builds an astonishing, unconventional career.

But the book is more than its characterization of Pamela. Walker writes this with such unobtrusive and consistence brilliance that we see and feel the beauty of the West.

I suppose she's considered a craftsman, not an artist. How boring that gets. But for readers of Susan Glaspell 's Fidelity,which I have also posted about, this novel is as remarkable or more so.

1 comment:

Ellen said...

I loved Susan Glaspell and have bought a book of 4 of her plays. This is not about _Curlew's Cry_ -- though the title is intriguing. There's a beautiful poem about a curlew's cry by a later 18th century poet, Helen Maria Williams. It's rather to say I like the new look and the subtitle: "thoughts on reading."