Madeline's Reviews > My Ántonia

My Ántonia by Willa Cather
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** spoiler alert ** Like The Great Gatsby, I somehow avoided having to read this in high school, although I remember a lot of my friends reading Cather's book for Honors English while I was suffering through Summer of My German Soldier in regular people English. (Turns out, even if you're a voracious teenage reader, they still don't let you take honors classes if you spend your entire high school career constantly being one bad quiz away from straight-up flunking whatever math class you're in at the time) I don't remember my friends having much to say about My Antonia specifically, but I remember that they...didn't love it.

Which isn't surprising, honestly. Cather's book is, based just on the plot description, a deeply dull story with barely any actual plot: Jim Burton looks back on his childhood in frontier America, and specifically his lifelong friendship with a Czech immigrant named Antonia. There are little bits of drama here and there, like when two Russian immigrants share the truly horrifying reason they had to leave their home country, and Antonia lives a life of quiet, constant struggle and suffering that Jim either doesn't feel the need to point out, or just doesn't notice.

It's the writing that saves the book, and is the reason this is considered such a classic. Cather's prose gives us perfect descriptions of the prairie setting, and she's able to expertly use just a handful of well-chosen words to fully illustrate her characters. Antonia will stay with you long after you finish the book.

So it's a real shame that the subject of the book doesn't get to tell her own story in her own words. I'm sure there's a very good reason that Cather makes Jim her narrator, and has him show the reader Antonia through his eyes (did Cather suspect that it would be hard for a woman to sell a book where a woman tells us about her own life? Ugh, probably), but this also means that Antonia can only ever exist to us as Jim saw her.

At least Jim's not a bad narrator, overall. For the majority of the book I was enjoying myself, if only for the nice Little House on the Prairie nostalgia, but the story starts to nosedive around the time that Jim becomes an adolescent. Suddenly his complete inability to notice the abuse that Antonia suffers is more of a problem, as he's now old enough to be aware of these things. (Haha Jim, remember that time you found out that Antonia's employer had been planning to sneak into her room and rape her? Probably not, because no one ever talked about it after that scene) Jim starts behaving like a self-centered little shit - ie, a teenager - and it's not fun to watch Antonia's life through his eyes anymore. There's a lot of talk about the dances that are happening in town, and Jim starts going around with girls while internally griping about Antonia hanging out with the wrong boy.

The worst part comes towards the end, when Jim has been away at college (and fucking around with Lena Lingard, who is both awesome and way too good for Jim), and then comes home and tells Antonia that he loves her.

And then he leaves again, and doesn't come back for twenty years. Our hero really goes the extra mile to explain this to his readers, using a whopping two words to justify why he confessed his feelings to this poor girl and then didn't see her for two decades: "Life intervened."

It is at this point that My Antonia turns into Lamentations of a Fuckboy by Jim Burton. He eventually learns that while he was away, Antonia got engaged to some dude who then abandoned her, leaving her pregnant and unmarried. Jim is "disappointed" in Antonia. Because Jim sucks.

But she gets her life together, because Antonia is awesome, and when Jim finally comes back for a visit (he puts it off for a long time, because "I did not want to find her aged and broken"), she has a loving husband, a successful farm, and a ton of kids who adore her. All we know about adult Jim is that he's married, and the original narrator of the book doesn't like his wife.

I really wish I'd gotten to read this book from Antonia's point of view. This is the story of a woman who immigrated to the United States as a child, speaking barely any English, and had to figure out how to survive with her family on the unforgiving frontier. Her father killed himself when she was young (or was maybe murdered? There's a little bit of suspicion surrounded the neighbor, and then it's dropped entirely), and she suffers abuse at the hands of her brother, her employer, and then her fiance. She has a child out of wedlock, but never tries to hide it, and bravely continues to live in her hometown with her child, ignoring the judgement and the rumors. Eventually she meets and marries a good man, who doesn't care that she already has a child, and she finally gets her farm and her family, and her happy ending. I wanted Antonia to tell me her story, not have it filtered through the perspective of her friend.

And frankly, y'all, it pisses me off that this is called My Antonia. It reminds me, of all things, of an exchange from one of the Bond movies. Bond is bantering with Moneypenny and says, "Ah, Moneypenny, what would I do without you?" To which she replies, "Oh James. You've never had me."

Honestly. It's like if Drake wrote a song called "My Rihanna."

(no I will not apologize for that metaphor. Suck it, Honors English!)
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
September, 2017 – Finished Reading
September 13, 2017 – Shelved
September 13, 2017 – Shelved as: audiobook

Comments Showing 1-4 of 4 (4 new)

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Chris "Honestly. It's like if Drake wrote a song called "My Rihanna." ' :') bwhaha


Jason Koivu Lamentations of a Fuckboy could be the title of sooo many 20th century novels by male writers.


Madeline LOOKING AT YOU, HEMINGWAY.


Mickey I honestly couldn't believe I had to scroll so far down this page to find a critical review of this book that I couldn't stand! Thanks for summing it up so well, you really put words to the general feeling of disgust this book left me with


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