As seems to be the trend lately, I did not take adequate notes on the books I read from Nebraska. I read these books months ago, then went off on a Daphne du Maurier reading binge which led me on a winding tour that included a re-read of The Shipping News, a couple of beach reads on vacation, and Dracula. I now only have vague impressions of the Nebraska books, which I’ll record here quickly and without polish so that I won’t let this recap post stand in the way with moving on to Nevada in my reading journey.
Novel: Eleanor & Park
Author: Rainbow Rowell, born Omaha, NE
Setting: 1986 Omaha, Nebraska
While this book could have been set anywhere — the setting doesn’t stand out as a character to me — this was my favorite of the Nebraska books I read. I heard about it over and over again on the Book Riot podcast, and it had been on my to-read pile for a good two years before I finally landed in Nebraska and picked it up. It was worth the wait. I was instantly immersed in the story and the characters, two outsiders in high school, Eleanor and Park. I won’t go into a synopsis — those are all over the Internet and are written by folks for whom the work was fresher on their minds when they wrote about it — I’ll just say I loved this book and the way it made me think and feel.
Novel: My Ántonia
Author: Willa Cather, grew up in Nebraska
Setting: the great plains of frontier Nebraska
Unlike Eleanor & Park, the setting of My Ántonia is as much a character in the novel as Ántonia herself, or as smitten Jim who narrates the story. I often crave pioneer, prairie-set fiction, and My Ántonia and Cather’s other novellas are some of the best I’ve read.
This is my second or third reading of My Ántonia, a beautiful book that transports me to the harsh and wild life of settlers on the great plains.
There was nothing but land: not a country at all, but the material out of which countries are made.
As I looked about me I felt that the grass was the country as the water is the sea. The red of the grass made all the great prairie the colour of wine-stains, or of certain seaweeds when they are first washed up. And there was so much motion in it, the whole country seemed, somehow, to be running.
Book: Bead on an Anthill: A Lakota Childhood
Author: Daphne Red Shirt
Setting: 1960s and 70s Pine Ridge Reservation in northern Nebraska
Told from her perspective as a native American child growing up on a reservation in Nebraska, these stories of daily life are poignant in their innocence. The simple accounts of a child, as any child would chatter on about, show more than she tells. The notes I have are heartbreaking:
Scarcity: following ants to collect the beads they had carried off from the Lakota camp.
Being weighted down by her buckskin costume at the county fair and having to dance and be on display in front of whites, and be a spectacle — entertainment for them, and her hating to dance. But loving to do the same dance in camp in front of only her own people, and not having to wear the buckskin costume to do it.
Being surrounded by death, and the first death that affected her being her oldest sister, 18 years older, who was like a mother to her but who died from liver failure from drinking wine like water for too many years.
Novel: Plains Song
Author: Wright Morris
Setting: late 1800’s early 1900’s Nebraska
This book I don’t recall as well, except that I remember it having a powerful sense of place. I remember the women are strong and endure, as they had to when attempting to settle on the American frontier. Kirkus Reviews has a nice writeup of this little known (and little written about) 1981 National Book Award winner, if you like frontier fiction and want to know more.