Willa Cather's short poignant novel was written in 1935. The story takes place in the early twentienth century and contrasts the American plains, the small town of Haverford, Nebraska, with Chicago, large urban American with its promise and perils. The heroine of the book, Lucy Gayheart, has great pianistic talent. She leaves Haverford at the age of 18 to study piano, and to give music lessons, in Chicago.
In Chicago she meets a great but disillusioned and world-weary singer, Clement Sebastian, and has the opportunity to work with him as an accompanyist. There are wonderful descriptions of Schubert song-cycles: the Winterreise and the Miller's Lovely Daughter. She ultimately is seemingly faced with the choice between Sebastian and her hometown sweetheart.
Faced with tragedy from both men in Chicago, Lucy returns home. She gears herself to begin life anew but tragedy again intervenes.
There is a great deal of description in the book of the snow andthe cold, in both Chicago and Haverford. The book also has for me a feel for the tragic sense of life, with a hint of the power of art and religious faith to overcome it. The opposition between city life and provincial town life is similar to Sinclair Lewis's Main Street but with more depth and craft in the writing. The love for music, the human voice and the piano eloquently comes through the book.
This is a beautifully wrought book which deserves to be better known.