Author: Willa Cather
Recommendation: Maybe read it
If you like: The Classics, War stories
Claude Wheeler is a Nebraska farm boy, but he’s always wanted more. He does everything that’s expected of him: he works on the farm and he marries a girl from town. But at each new stage of life he continues to be unsatisfied. He has a constant, underlying feeling that there should be more to life. When America finally enters WWI, he signs up right away. As he travels farther and farther from home, he feels more and more alive.
One of Ours is a slow novel, in the sense that there is a lot of character development and, although there is action, much of it isn’t in the form of a “plot” per se. The majority of the action and plot begins when Claude leaves for WWI, and that doesn’t happen until the last third of the book. But the buildup and character development are essential to understanding the action and to feeling satisfied with how the book ultimately ends.
As with most of the early Pulitzers, this is a book about a very specific time in American life. Much of it is irrelevant to the modern reader. But many of the themes are enduring. Claude struggles with creating a life for himself that reflects his values and what he wants. He tries to be a good son and he tries to do what his parents want him to do. But he learns as he grows that that is not always enough. He marries a woman he thinks he loves and she turns out to be a person he doesn’t know. He battles with his demons every day.
The final act of the book takes place during WWI. This is where Claude finally becomes the man he wants to be. He sees suffering and terrible things, but he can’t help feeling happy to be there. Cather certainly doesn’t portray the war as a good thing, but she does show how some of the men who went may have made something good from it. She gives us scenes of death and battle, but everything is very quiet and understated. What is important here is Claude’s growth, not the war itself. It’s an intimate portrait of one man’s experience of war. And, more importantly, of one man’s experience of life.