Novella #5: Alexander's Bridge

Fifth in my novella a day challenge was Willa Cather’s Alexander’s Bridge. I had only read one Cather before this one, My Antonia, but from what I know about Cather, this book diverged from her normal topic matter. It’s set in the city rather than in the rural West. And it’s unsettling.

9781612191058This is a character-driven novella: Bartley Alexander is an architect gaining world renown for his ingenious construction of bridges in the early 20th century. He is happily married to a woman of grace and talent, yet he is anxious and dissatisfied with success and domestic happiness. Bartley is a former Ivy League student, an energetic, creative soul being bogged down by age. He misseshis youth and vigor, in a rather selfish, annoying way. While on a business trip to London, he meets an old flame, an actress whom he discarded for his wife ten-odd years earlier. He sees her again, and the rest is history.

On that instant he felt that marvelous return of the impetuousness, the intense excitement, the increasing expectancy of youth.

I didn’t love this book. Even flipping through it to write this review, I couldn’t believe how little I remembered, despite having read this book not more than a month ago. I feel like subpar or underdeveloped books are easily forgotten. Strangely, this Cather novel falls into that category for me.

Bartley Alexander is constantly admired and talked about with something like idol worship, but what exactly is so great about him is never apparent. His mistress/former lover, Hilda, has a bubbly personality but her hero worship of the droll Bartley was a little exhausting. Bartley’s wife, the dynamic piano player, was easily my favorite character and the most overshadowed in this slim volume.

The ending is stupid, frankly. It left me with such an empty feeling, as if I’d been cheated out of an ending that would have satisfied whatever emotions had been triggered by reading about this agonizing love triangle. It felt like a cop-out.

Anybody else read any Cather? I loved My Antonia, and recently acquired O Pioneers! so hopefully I find that one more to my liking!

Buy the book at at this link.

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  • I promise that O, Pioneers! isn’t this bad! It’s not uplifting, exactly, but that’s no surprise. Don’t feel bad about forgetting the book; I find that I can barely remember subpar books & movies even a week after I’ve read/watched them…

    • I’m actually really excited to read O, Pioneers! I’m sure it’s more like My Antonia than this novella.