Chasing Bright Medusas: A Life of Willa Cather

Viking. Nov. 2023. 192p. ISBN 9780593298824. $28. BIOG
Taylor’s (Here We Are: My Friendship with Philip Roth) intention with this biography of Willa Cather (1873–1947) is to demonstrate how her temperament grows, changes, and consequently influences her work. Arranged in chronological order by her works, the chapters each follow the same format: a mention of what Cather is working on, a bit about where she is in her life at that time, specifics about the work itself, and details on how it was received. Particulars about her life are scattered throughout. Cather’s entire early writing career is covered, as well as her major works (O Pioneers!; My Ántonia; Death Comes for the Archbishop). Throughout, it is evident that Taylor has a reverence for Cather’s writing. However, there are several shortcomings. Cather’s two major personal relationships—with Isabelle McClung and then Edith Lewis—are examined only intermittently and Taylor’s observations about sexuality, unhappy marriages, and Cather’s dislike of the patriarchy appear without substantial context, which may make some readers wonder if they were Cather’s ideas or Taylor’s. Although each chapter seems to be leading towards an epiphany about Cather, that moment never actually arrives.
VERDICT For ardent Cather fans only.
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