Pulitzer Prize winner or not, I almost quit during the first fifty pages. The opening is a dreadful bore. By modern standards, Cather commits almost every storytelling gaff. Even by 1922 standards, she should have compressed the first half of her story into half the space.
The story really begins when the Great War intrudes on the life of rural America. The protagonist breaks his provincial shell and enters the greater world. His life–and the story–begins as he sails past the Statue of Liberty bound for the battlefields of France.
Cather’s thorough research and love of her characters shows, but her sentimental point of view is perhaps so foreign that modern readers may not understand what she says. The Second World War so overshadows the First that most Americans know next to nothing about it. This story is a helpful corrective, at the man-in-the-trenches, though hopelessly idealized level.
Coincidentally, I read this 1922 story of life on the plains while my wife read Laura Ingalls Wilder’s first Little House on the prairie book: Little House in the Big Woods. Both are fiction or almost fiction based on fact. Wilder is a better story teller and better describer of how life was lived: Cather more literary. Wilder’s almost-autobiography does not grab the deep emotions as Cather historical fiction does.