Keli Wright's Reviews > Death Comes for the Archbishop

Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather
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Sep 18, 2008

really liked it
Read 2 times. Last read June 9, 2016.


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Finished Reading
September 18, 2008 – Shelved
Started Reading
June 9, 2016 – Finished Reading

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Keli Wright I decided to reread "Death Comes for the Archbishop" during a recent trip (my first) to New Mexico. As I read the book, I found it to be representative of the state not only in the abundant description Cather lavishes throughout, but in its overall tone.

The only plot here is that which you might find in anyone's life. The book flows through Bishop Latour's years without relying on external forces of any kind. A quote toward the end of the book expresses the way the work itself moves:

"He realized also that there was no longer any perspective in his memories.... He was soon to have done with calendared time, and it had already ceased to count for him. He sat in the middle of his own consciousness; none of his former states of mind were lost or outgrown. They were all within reach of his hand, and all comprehensible."

This is part of the beauty of the book--the way it plays with time. The narrative moves along the course of the man's life, but does not belabor the rate at which it goes. While reading it, I had a sense of timelessness, or a concurrent condensation and expansion of time, an omnipresence of action and place. Perhaps this happens in part because the stories and vignettes that are sprinkled throughout are not presented in a strictly chronological order, nor do they have at their center a unifying character. Some are of the Bishop, himself; others are of people or peoples who appear outside the timeline of the book but belong very much within the timeless place in which the book is set.

So, it seems, Cather has given us a work of historical fiction that is rooted less in time than in place in a way that relieves us of the need to quantify years and events. Instead we may become absorbed into the landscape and, hopefully, absorb in our turn, the spirit of the people who inhabited it--their reverence and resilience, their sense of unified separateness from the rest of the world, their way of living lightly which feels, in a society heavy with mortal concern, at once profound and simple, and very worthwhile to experience, if only in a book.


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